Female photographers challenge taboos in Yemen

Female photographers challenge taboos in Yemen



(29 Dec 2016) LEAD IN:
Yemeni female photographers and models are challenging social taboos in the country.
After facing some difficulties at the start of their careers, they now say they can do their job with pride.

STORY-LINE:
Photographer Sahya Al-Asbahi is hard at work.
She’s one a small number of professional female photographers working in Yemen.
What started as a hobby while a pupil at Sanaa’s German school, grew into passion and finally paid work.
“I was taking pictures of the simplest things as a hobby. I loved photography. Photography is a spirit. I felt that I found my soul in photography. The photo is a drawing for me, something alive that is moving, greater than words.”
She calls her camera “my sweetheart” and fears for it due to the threat from “the militiamen who roam Sanaa’s streets” as the country’s civil war rolls on.
She takes pictures of the displaced from Yemeni war zones for humanitarian bodies and also snaps away during social celebrations.
Her parents support her on the condition she “respects morals and religion”.
Work like this is challenging in a conservative country like Yemen.
Women here face severe discrimination in law and practice.
They cannot marry without the permission of their male guardian and do not have equal rights to divorce, inheritance or child custody.
But photographer Abeer Aziz finds support in her fiance, who she says is open minded.
Her hobby started four years ago with mobile phone snapshots, before taking a course and buying a camera.
Her dream is to become a “renowned photographer” and to take pictures all over the world “without being harassed”.
“I mean, as soon as they (people) see you holding a camera and shooting, you find some speak badly at you, some say to you ‘Why do you shoot here? Go to your home. A woman should be at her home, in the kitchen’,” says Aziz, adding that she was also spat on.
Iman al-Abssi, 24, cannot afford a camera, she borrows one from a friend. A TV presenter, she is jobless since her programme about tourism was scrapped because of the war.
But she says the situation is improving and more people accept her as a female photographer.
Wedyan Almamary has another passion, this time in front of the camera.
“At first, some difficulties took place, and I used to obey people. And later, I tried to be more positive. Thanks to Allah, my family was supportive of this thing. The people around me are proud of me. I did not lend my ears to the society because if you lend your ears to the society you will do nothing.”
Posing as a model was Almamary’s way of pushing the norm in a country where the majority of women would not venture outside their house barefaced.
A journalist at a media company, a photographer approached her asking her to pose.
She has since appeared in nine commercials and participated in “numerous” local fashion shows.
The dresses she flaunts are long and do not allow for a glimpse of skin to show.
Mona Abdallah, an activist working on women issues, believes the conflict has strangely been the catalyst new ideas and, though painful, eased the constraints bounding women.
“In the past (for) women it was impossible to see young women that are not veiled. We did not see young women in the media, only a small number, two or three, four or even ten, we can say. But the society’s perception changed, and there exists awareness now. We find young women in all aspects, all fields and at all levels. We find the politician, we find the journalist, we find the media worker, we find the photographer, we find the model, we find the professor, you find the doctor.”
“We find women at all levels, and they have proven their role,” she adds.

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