Thousands of women took to the streets of Yemen today and burned their veils, but not because they're against wearing the traditional coverings. For Bedouin tribes burning garments is a symbolic gesture that signifies an appeal to fellow tribesmen for help. The women oppose President Ali Abdullah Saleh's violent crackdown on anti-government protesters, and are hoping to draw the attention of tribal leaders and the international community.
The Associated Press reports that in the capital Sanaa, women threw their full-body veils, or makrama, into a pile in the street and lit them on fire while chanting, "Who protects Yemeni women from the crimes of the thugs?" The uprising against Saleh has been going on since March, and recently fighting between rebels and government forces has intensified. Protesters say more than 60 women have been attacked this month, and accuse government forces of raiding homes and murdering children. Last night Saleh called for a ceasefire, but the fighting didn't stop and it's estimated that 25 people died in the city.
During today's protest, the women handed out leaflets that read: "This is a plea from the free women of Yemen; here we burn our makrama in front of the world to witness the bloody massacres carried by the tyrant Saleh." Protester Ruqaiah Nasser told CNN that it's disgraceful for tribal leaders to remain silent while Saleh's forces lash out at civilians. She continued:
"We will not stay quiet and will defend ourselves if our men can't defend us. Tribes must understand they will not be respected by Yemeni women if they stay quiet while their women are being attacked by the Saleh regime. Tribes who ignore our calls are cowards and have no dignity."
Women were embolded by Yemen's Tawakul Karman being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this month. More and more women have been taking to the streets to protest government violence and they say they won't stop until Saleh steps down.