The latest speaker featured in my session on EMBRACING OTHERNESS at TEDGlobal was Nadia Al Sakkaf, the Executive Editor of the Yemen Times. It would be impossible, after all, to talk about otherness and not reflect on the differences that are driving so much change and conflict in the Middle East. Nadia offered us a view inside Yemen that shattered a few stereotypes widely held about this poorest country in the region. Nadia, herself, is a walking/talking example of a very different Yemeni woman than we might envision, were we to only watch American media. Blending old and new, she dresses traditionally in the hijab with covered arms and legs, but she is a transformative force in her country.
Nadia became editor of the Yemen Times, the only independent, English-language paper in the country, in 2005. Her father founded the paper and was its editor and publisher until his untimely death at age 46 in a traffic accident in 1999. She had to prove a young woman could run a media company, could manage a staff of men and women, and could become a leading voice for revolution and change inside and outside Yemen. Nadia told of firing half the men at the paper because they could not adapt to working for a woman and to telling the women who she hired, "You cannot wear the veil at work." Nadia sparked revolutionary changes at her paper that seem to match the revolution taking place in the streets. Nadia urged western press to stop "otherizing" Yemen, especially its women and its young people, because they are the "Other Yemen," the one being born out of the conflict.
Nadia wowed the TED audience with her directness, strength, but also with her easy smile and good humor. We were all left with a nagging worry that her high profile position and forthrightness make her a target for recriminations from those who resist change. See it for yourself:
Stay tuned for more of our compelling speakers' stories and lessons.
This post originally appeared at the Paley Center for Media's Pat Connects blog.