A Message from the ‘Mother of the Revolution’: Tawakkol Karman at the Warwick Economic Summit
Tawakkol Karman brought real zeal, spirit and an infectious dynamism to the Warwick Economic Summit on February 2nd. The subsequent suspension of the Nobel Peace Prize winner from the Yemen Islamist party demonstrates how impactful this very university can be on the global stage. It adds weight to Karman’s inspiring message that students “can change the world”.
As creatures of routine, it is perhaps too easy for us to live in a bubble at university. Campus, exams, family, friends – these tend to feel far more real to us than the events unfolding in ‘the outside world’. And, while we may scan the headlines, enter political debates or discuss economic policy, one might nevertheless feel as though the real change is happening elsewhere. The temptation is to await graduation before trying to effect change. We might hope to enter a position of power or influence when we finally enter that ‘outside world’.
Tawakkol Karman, however, stepped onto the stage in OC1.05 and bade us “wake up” from this dreamlike bubble. “Dear brothers and sisters,” she began, “…I started my journey as a human right defender…as a woman journalist.” Responding to the the poverty, deterioration and corruption in Yemen, Tawakkol co-founded Women Journalists Without Chains in 2005 to promote women’s rights, civil rights and freedom of speech. Her activism and influence during the Arab Spring are laudable. With reference to the patriarchal resistance to female activism, she simply shrugged: “We as women tell them, ‘Shut up!’”. That the audience laughed is testament to her valour.
Yet, Tawakkol’s journey really started with a daunting question we all might all ask ourselves: “What can I do?” She notes how asking for reforms in Yemen was ineffectual, how in the midst of continuous deterioration she asked herself: “What can I write? I should do something for my country.” Organising marches, sit-ins and media campaigns, Tawakkol did precisely that. And by inspiring students at the conference at Warwick, Tawakkol continues to do something for the world at large.
“Believe in yourself.”
It was students who made a significant contribution the the Arab Spring movement. It is students that can carry on the “dream”, the hope for freedom, equality, democracy, rule of law. Whatever cause inspirits you, give it a place in your everyday reality. Let it, in turn, enliven your daily experience. Tawakkol’s advice is to make use of the technology available to us, to devise projects, work with or establish our own institutions to effect change. “Own your dream,” she urged. As students, we needn’t wait until we leave university and enter the ‘real world’.
“All the world is waiting for you.”
Header image: Warwick Economics Summit.