In a short speech given to his supporters on Friday, Saleh said women who were protesting against his regime were violating Yemeni cultural norms that prohibit women mixing with men who are not direct relatives. He called it forbidden behavior in Islam and advised women to stay home.
Demonstrations were organized across Yemen on Sunday, in what was being called the "Day of Honor and Dignity".
|Yemeni anti-government protesters tear up a poster of president Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa on Sunday|
In addition to Sanaa, women also marched Sunday in the provinces of Shabwa, Dhammar, Baitha, Taiz and Ibb, showing how angry they were at Saleh for what they saw as an insult to their dignity.
"Even conservative women will join the protests now, to prove to anyone who doubts that women will take part in Yemen's future rule," said Salma Sabra, a human rights activist in Aden. "Women have always been strong in Yemen, and we will not accept being degraded by our ruler."
Women took to the streets in 10 of Yemen's provinces on Saturday as well, holding firm on their demands that Saleh step down. Prominent activist Tawakkol Karman said Saleh was shocked to see women leading Yemen's revolt.
"Saleh has finally shown the world his real face and his hatred against women," said Karman, a leading member of Islah, the largest opposition party in Yemen. Karman said Saleh is scared he will be known as the leader overthrown by women.
The government, meanwhile, said protesters had "misused" Saleh's comments, prompted by a belief that the opposition was using women and youth to promote their own agenda, and not the greater good of Yemen.
"Saleh is the first to support women's rights and has always shown interest in involving women in Yemeni politics," said Zaid Thari, a senior member of the ruling General People's Congress party. "Saleh was advising protesters and not acting against women in specific."
Anti-government demonstrators in Yemen have been calling for reforms and the ouster of Saleh for many weeks. Recently, women have shown their faces in greater numbers.
Yemen's largest opposition bloc rejected Saleh's remarks about women. The Joint Meeting Parties said Islam grants women more rights.
"Saleh's comments against the purity of women protesters are a clear indication that his oppressive regime does not respect any rights of expression and wants women to be led by men at all times," said Mohammed Sabri, a senior bloc official.
Even the conservative tribal coalition of Mareb and Jawf warned Saleh against attacking women's rights, saying that tribal culture has always given women the right to lead if they so desire.
"Women ruled Yemen numerous times in the past with success," said Ali Obaid, a senior member of the coalition. "Yemeni women lead the Yemeni revolution and men follow."