Yemen's anti-government movement took up the issue of women's rights in the conservative Muslim nation on Saturday, as thousands of demonstrators seeking the president's ouster denounced his comments against the participation of women in protest rallies.
In a speech Friday, President Ali Abdullah Saleh said the mingling of men and women at protests in the capital was against Islamic law. Demonstrators, including thousands of women, responded by marching through the capital of Sanaa and several other cities, shouting: "Saleh, beware of injuring women's honour."
"This insult has made us more determined to remain at the opposition squares with the men to topple the ugly regime," said Jameela al-Qabsi, a female professor at an education college.
Though it was a young woman who first led anti-Saleh demonstrations on a university campus in late January, women didn't begin turning out in large numbers until early March. It was a startling step considering the Muslim nation is a largely tribal society with deeply conservative social and religious traditions.
Many Yemeni women remain out of sight and conceal themselves in public under black head-to-toe robes. The issue of child brides in Yemen has also drawn international criticism. But unlike in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, women in Yemen are permitted to vote, run for parliament and drive cars.
Two months of near-daily protests and defections by key allies in the military, powerful tribes and diplomatic corps have failed to bring an end to Saleh's 32-year autocratic rule over the impoverished and fragile nation in the Arabian peninsula.
A crackdown on protesters by Saleh's forces has killed more than 120 people, according to Yemeni rights groups, but has not deterred crowds from gathering.
On Saturday, a group of female protesters presented the chief prosecutor with a complaint against Saleh for his remarks. Amat al-Salam Abdullah, one of the protesters, said the prosecutor ordered an investigation.
"I don't rule out that the president has been traumatized as a result of the involvement of tens of thousands of women in the demonstrations calling for his downfall," said Faiza al-Sharji, a female university professor.
The youth movement leading the anti-government protests took up the women's cause, calling for people to come out in millions on Sunday for a day of "honour and dignity."
The youth movement said in a statement that Saleh's comments were "a continuation of his violations against the Yemeni people after he killed them and accused them of being agents and outlaws."
Advocacy for women's rights in Yemen is rooted in the 1967-1990 period when the once-independent south had a socialist government. After unification, women in the south became more marginalized, resulting in high unemployment among female university graduates.