Many in New York City’s Yemeni community hail from rural regions in Yemen where there were few educational opportunities, especially for women and girls. Women maintained the household, reared the children and didn’t venture outwards in order to ensure their modesty.
When Yemenis emigrated to the US, and settled in New York City, women’s roles continued to be centered around the household. Education was not a priority.
But changes are underway. Dr. Nahla Alhuraibi, a doctor of sociology based in Columbus, Ohio who studied cultural shifts in the Yemeni-American community in Michigan attributes these changes to women showing family members Quranic text “that were not highlighted back home about the necessity of educating girls, and women’s rights to be free in deciding about their marriage and about their financial and economic property is their own.”
Additionally, Dr. Alhuraibi believes that families also recognize that there is an economic incentive to educate women and encourage them to pursue careers.
Orubba Almansouri, Sarah Alsaidi, and Huda Quhshi are three Brooklyn women paving the way for New York’s Yemeni American women to pursue an education and careers outside traditionally strict roles as homemakers.
Huda Quhshi, 37, entrepreneur.
In January 2017, Huda Quhshi, a Yemeni American, opened the doors of her hijabi full service salon, Le’Jemalik, in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, New York. The hijabi salon isn’t a new concept, but in New York, Yemeni women working outside the home is.
When Quhshi first started providing beauty services to women outside her home, her husband was hesitant to encourage her traveling from house to house to provide beauty treatments, hair styling and make-up for hijab women in New York City. Ultimately, after Quhshi voiced her desire to open Le’Jemalik, both Quhshi’s husband and father supported her pursuit. With their blessings and support she opened her salon.
Quhshi, started questioning unchallenged rules within the Yemeni community. She started asking if a rule was haram, a sin forbidden by the Quran, or, ayeb, something culturally not accepted. It is using this guide that she lives her life. As long as she is following the Quran, she believes that in god’s eyes she is fine. Her family agrees.
Orubba Almansouri, 23, student.
Orubba Almansouri is a soft spoken 23-year old Yemeni American women and the first person in her family to earn a college degree.
Almansouri has a 9 p.m. curfew. She is currently in her her first year of a two-year master’s program at NYU after graduating from City College New York as her class’ salutatorian. She says in the 5 years she has commuted from Brooklyn to Manhattan for school she has never broken it.
Yemeni women often marry young, under the age of 18, and bear children shortly after. Pursuing an education postpones and obstructs these cultural practices.
Almansouri has had several marriage proposals, but rejected them all so she could prioritize her education, a decision endorsed by both her parents.
Because their paths are atypical within the community, these women feel great pressure to be flawless in every other way.
She modestly says that she doesn’t think she is special; that anyone can do what she is doing. But Almansouri is realistic about her community. She knows that whether she asks for it or not she is used as an example. She also knows that everything she is doing is under a watchful eye.
Sarah Al Saidi, 25, student.
Sarah Al Saidi also finds the magnifying glass she is under to be overwhelming. She is a Yemeni American woman currently getting pursuing her doctorate in psychology from Columbia University.
She also knows women whose families are now regretful of their decisions not to prioritize their daughters’ education after seeing Alsaidi succeed. According to her, they realize their daughters could have also pursued their dreams and while maintaining the core values that they hold, like modesty in dress, their interactions with men outside the family and building a family.
Alsaidi feels fortunate that her family supports her decision to study as does her new husband who agrees to delay having children until they both are ready.
Ultimately, the decisions of Almansouri, Alsaidi, Quhshi and their families to support their endeavors come from the women’s commitment to their communities, their piety, and a cultural shift in seeing women’s accomplishments outside the home as beneficial to the greater community. For these three women, role models in the community were few or non-existent, but they are paving their own paths to success and leaving a trail for future generations to follow.