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Raufa Hassan, precious philanthropist dies at 53

30 April 2011

Dr. Raufa Hassan al-Sharki, a leading Yemeni scholar and gender expert and a contributor to MEYI's "Innovators and Thinkers" series, died Tuesday, 26 April 2011, in Egypt. Listen to MEYI's interview with Dr. Raufa Hassan al-Sharki on gender, development, and governance in Yemen. This article was originally published by Yemen Today and is reposted here. The views expressed in this article are those of the published author.

Dr. Raufa Hassan al-Sharki, founder of the Media College at Sana’a University, a human rights activist, a professor of media studies, the first female journalist in Yemen and at the center of all women’s issues in the country, died on Tuesday in a hospital in Egypt.

She was 53. Throughout her life, al-Sharki demonstrated a lifelong devotion to women’s issues on both a theoretical and practical level. Much of her work had been concerned with creating gender equality in Yemen.

She was especially devoted to women’s issues. She also had a wide interest and concern – theoretically and practically – for civil society organizations that aim to ensure that women are granted all their rights and are enabled to participate effectively in social activities based on an equal partnership. Her foundation, where she was present on Sundays and Wednesdays, was filled with media students, foreign journalists and many others seeking help from her knowledge or just to hear what she had to say.

Al-Sharki was a self-made survivor and that was evident early on in her life. A story she told in one interview that I did with her before shows how determined this woman was all her life. When she was 12 years old and in the seventh grade she and a couple of her friends from their school, Biliqis, were not satisfied with their school books. They said that the boy’s schools had better and many more books than girl’s schools like theirs. So they all decided to go the house of the prime minister of Yemen. That was in 1971.

They were about seven girls and decided to walk to the prime minister’s house on a Friday. They packed lunches and wore their best shoes. After their long walk they reached the house of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Kurshmi. They knocked on his door and the prime minister asked them what this was all about. Al-Sharki recalled that they had already written a request on paper for books and when they talked with al-Kurshmi he laughed.

He said yes to their request and went further as he was really impressed with the girls’ initiative. He invited them to go to school with boys. It was the first time that girls were permitted inside a boy’s school and they were received politely and were respected. Since then, al-Sharki had a career notable for a certain kind of fearlessness. She was the first in everything in the media. She was the first female broadcaster on radio and the first female anchor on TV. She started to work for Sana’a Radio Station in the 1970s when she was still a little girl. Abdul-Rahman Mutaher, a leading figure at Sana’a Radio Station and he as the first person under whose command she worked. Mutaher described her once as a very talented kid.

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