Human Rights Watch's Alison Des Forges Award celebrates the valor of individuals who put their lives on the line to protect the dignity and rights of others. Human Rights Watch collaborates with these courageous activists to create a world in which people live free of violence, discrimination, and oppression.
Arwa Othman is a writer, journalist, anthropology researcher and leading advocate working to end child marriage in Yemen.
Women in Yemen face severe discrimination in law and in practice. More than half of Yemeni girls are married—often to much older men—before age 18, making them more likely to drop out of school, die in childbirth, or experience physical and sexual abuse. During the mass protests that erupted in Yemen in 2011—ultimately ending then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year rule Othman was among the most outspoken activists calling for human rights and gender equality.
In 2013, Othman participated in Yemen’s national dialogue conference, tasked with shaping the country’s new constitution. The recommendations by the rights and freedom committee, which Othman headed, are among the most progressive and rights-respecting to come out of the process. They include reforms that could vastly improve the lives of Yemeni women and children, such as enshrining gender equality in law, prohibiting discrimination, and setting the minimum age for marriage at 18. The committee also recommended criminal sanctions for anyone who forces a child to marry. Othman is widely credited with bringing these strong recommendations to fruition.
Because of her prominent role during Yemen’s transitional period, Othman and other women’s rights activists have been the subjects of an increasingly aggressive apostasy campaign. Critics have used social media and flyers to call for attacks—and in some cases murder—against Othman and her colleagues. Despite these threats, Othman perseveres in her efforts to end child marriage and to promote women’s rights in Yemen.
Human Rights Watch honors Arwa Othman for her courageous work on behalf of all Yemenis, including women and children.