This is one in a series of interviews I conducted while at the 4th Arab Bloggers Meeting in Amman, Jordan. WITNESS was invited to co-facilitate a workshop on storytelling techniques used in campaigns for change. We’ll be publishing them periodically on the blog.
The following is an interview with Noon Arabia, a Yemeni blogger, contributor to Global Voices, and digital activist. “Noon Arabia” is a pseudonym she uses for personal and security reasons. Here we talk about how she got started as a blogger, the issues that are most important to her and a new crop Yemeni women bloggers.
Matisse Bustos-Hawkes: When did you start blogging, and why do you publish in both English and Arabic?
Noon: Actually, when I started writing, I started on Twitter. I did not actually start as a blogger. I started tweeting about the Yemeni revolution, what was going on, because there was a media blackout. Everybody was focused on the revolutions happening in Egypt and then in Libya. The Yemeni revolution was pretty much marginalized. I felt that my role was to show the world what was happening in Yemen, share videos, articles, and local news in Arabic that weren’t being translated.
I started translating these articles with some friends on Facebook. We had a news page, and I started tweeting links to the articles we gathered. We used both Arabic and English because we wanted to have more attention from world media, and to do that we needed to use English.
A couple of journalists actually followed me for news, and I thought, “Why not start a blog?” So I started my own blog, and I named it Notes by Noon. I wrote blog posts about the revolution and also wrote posts about what a beautiful country Yemen is, so people could hear another side of the story, besides the mainstream media narrative.
MBH: You have a focus on women’s rights in Yemen and broadly on human rights. What brought you to these topics?
Noon: We are calling for change, and change not only in the political sphere but also in the social sphere. It is very important to have women’s rights, because women are very marginalized in Yemen. They are the ones who suffer the most due to child marriages or child birth, death during labor.
They are the ones who are uneducated, because the preference is to send boys to school while girls are supposed to get married. I felt like they had to have a voice. I started campaigning for their rights along with a group that I co-organized. It’s called Support Yemen. We used video as an advocacy tool to highlight these videos, to spread the message.
I also highlighted on US drones in Yemen as well. I actually wrote several blogs about that, because I felt this is something that needs to be addressed and wasn’t addressed enough.
MBH: What have been some the reactions that you’ve received about your coverage of US drone strikes in Yemen from Westerners?
Noon: Actually, I found a lot of support among Westerners. Some journalists from Western outlets quoted me in some of their articles. I felt like there was a lot of support from even Americans.
It warmed our hearts in Yemen to know that there are activists and Westerners who care about us. You know that you’re not alone. Humans, after all, we’re all calling for justice.
Yemenis condemn terrorists and Al-Qaeda; We all do not want them to exist, but there are better means of combating them and countering their terrorism than by killing them. I believe that violence just leads to violence. There are so many civilians that are actually being killed in the process. That just creates a vicious circle.
MBH: Has publishing on Global Voices helped you reach new audiences?
Noon: Absolutely it did. It amplified my voice. I’m so grateful for the opportunity and that chance, I really appreciate Global Voices.
MBH: For people who don’t know, Global Voices also has an amazing network of translators. If you’ve created a post in both, for instance, Arabic and English, it might actually get translated into five, or six, or seven other languages.
Noon: Certainly. One of my posts actually was translated into 11 languages. It is certainly a great opportunity to have that kind of exposure.
MBH: In the three years that you’ve been blogging, it’s been a period of intense change throughout the Middle East/ North Africa region. Are you seeing, and meeting, and hearing from new female Yemeni bloggers?
Yes I have. With the Arab Spring, and with the media, and the connectivity that I did with the activists in the Arab world and especially in Yemen, I was amazed and surprised by the amount of women that had a strong voice. Some of these include Ataif AlWazir, Afrah Nasser, Sama’a Al-Hamdani, Arwa Othman and Boshra Almaktary. The last two are activists and journalists who publish their articles, in Arabic, primarily in local newspapers and on Facebook.
They’re making changes, not only on digital media, but because they actually live in Yemen. I’m from the diaspora so my role is very limited, but they’re actually in Yemen making this change.
I was very impressed by their perseverance, by their power, by their engagement in the political process. Some of them took part in the national dialogue conference and they demanded change and a 30% quota for women in government.
The revolution was not successful in the political terms and did not turn out the way we wanted, but socially it has made a big change, especially for the women who made their presence felt and their voices heard. There is no turning back.
Images courtesy Noon Arabia. Image at top is used by Noon as her online avatar.