“All women deserve to have a safe space” – Diwan: The Safe Space for Yemeni Women

A poster depicting a man hitting a woman; text in Arabic.

Safe Diwan is an online space that gives Yemini women journalists a platform to express their opinions and experiences without fear of judgement and retaliation. Internews Project Director Saoussen Ben Cheik speaks about the initiative and its impact on the lives of Yemeni women journalists.  

By Saoussen Ben Cheikh  

“We don’t feel safe and​ confident to speak in public​ with men.

We fear ​repercussions and that we will lose our job,​ social status.” 

Yemeni Woman Journalist

The situation for women

Yemen has been often described as one of the worst places to be a woman. The country has been lagging for decades at the bottom of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap index.

Gender based violence is widespread with crimes that include female genital mutilation, child marriage and deprivation of access to health and education.

Living in a patriarchal society is not Yemini women’s only challenge. Poverty, repression and a seven- year long conflict with no end in sight have had a horrific impact on all civilians, however, women and girls tend to be disproportionately affected.  

About Safe Diwan 

The Safe Diwan is an online space where Yemeni women journalists are encouraged to share their experiences, opinions, ideas and feelings without fear of judgement. The main objective is to provide female journalists with an open safe space to express themselves about issues related to their work and topics they care about to boost their self-confidence.  

In the closed WhatsApp group, an Internews mentor moderates the conversation. 

To date, the group has discussed:                                                                  

  • Sexual violence during armed conflict​ 
  • Women stereotypes in media ​ 
  • Women as a source in media 

Today, more than 60 women, all journalists from Internews’ partner organizations, from radio to civil societies and news websites from across Yemen, participate in the group.  

To ensure a safe space, only women journalists recommended or known by Internews are admitted to the WhatsApp group. And before being admitted, all members are asked to accept the Diwan code of conduct, highlighting for example that everything discussed within the group stays in the group.  

How it started 

Internews in Yemen has a gender transformative approach empowering women to raise their voices and their awareness of human rights. It has projects that focus on women and train newsrooms on gender sensitive reporting.

The idea of Safe Diwan came from Editorial Adviser Amal El Mekki. 

“The idea came to my mind when I was doing my monthly session through Zoom with both female and male journalists,” says Amal. 

“I noticed that most women journalists didn’t open their cameras. Moreover, the women journalists were more likely to express their opinions individually than when male colleagues were present. When I asked them why this was, many replied that they didn’t feel safe doing so.”

“This was disheartening to hear because I believe that all Yemini women journalists should be able to share their opinions. So I created a WhatsApp group, and Safe Diwan was born.”

The impact 

The project is still in its early days; however, members have already started sharing their feedback on how Safe Diwan has impacted their personal life and career: 

“I joined safe room because it discusses gender issues, and I have a personal interest in gender. Also, I am looking for collaboration and networking because I believe it is the ideal way for professional development.”  

“I feel safe to talk freely about sensitive issues and share my personal experience, which has an impact on feeling comfortable on my professional development. It enriches my experience with data and new ideas, which help me work in radio programs.”

 “Safe room helps me to focus on more and broader angles through my feminine podcast program.” 

All women deserve to have a safe space and judging from some of the feedback we’ve received, this project has enriched the lives of all its members.  

Looking into the future, we want to continue providing a space for female journalists to express their opinions and perspectives outwardly, free from fear of being isolated or shamed by their peers. We believe that all journalists should have access to tools, resources and platforms that provide support and education on doing their jobs to the best of their abilities.