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The forgotten women of Yemen

Violence and threats of rape are but some of the sufferings Yemeni women have to endure with no end in sight

Hanan Al-Hakry , Saturday 12 Jan 2019
Yemeni woman
File Photo: A woman holds expired yogurt she has found at a garbage dump on the outskirts of the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, Yemen (Reuters)
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Yemeni women experiencing the horrors of war have been scarred for life. How do they survive and raise their children? What kinds of terror have they seen? Why did organisations defending women’s rights disappear from the scene? How many women in Yemen have seen their child die in their arms?

Women are the most affected by the war in Yemen. They fight and strive but they are the first victims of war. It is Yemeni women whose husbands and children are killed, and they are left alone to bear the consequences of war amid health, economic and humanitarian crises.

Yemeni women were always respected and appreciated in their country. They are in shock after they have been violated by the Houthis. Local and international organisations’ reports said there were more than 20,000 cases of violations against Yemeni women.

The Rights Radar organisation for human rights in the Arab world released a report stating that Yemeni women were subjected to killing, physical assault and violence at the hands of Houthi militias during more than three years of war.

Minister of Social Affairs and Labour Ibtehaj Al-Kamal said Houthi militias killed more than 675 Yemeni women, while others became disabled because of land mines or were affected by health problems and hunger.

In a report published by the World Economic Forum about the conditions of women in 142 countries on the economic, academic, political, violence and healthcare levels, Yemen came in last when it came to women’s rights.

The country was described as the worst place to be born a woman. The report stated that Yemen failed to provide its women with good opportunities for education, even at the primary level, leading to gaps in the job market and in political participation for women.

Men occupy at least 80 per cent of public sector jobs.

A Yemeni study revealed that the weak status of women is linked to fragile laws in addition to the tribal culture and customs and traditions introduced by Houthi militias.

Since the Houthis gained control of certain cities and institutions, women became subject to verbal and physical harassment and threats of rape, and were prevented from working.

Women were violated and attacked during their participation in demonstrations. Forced marriages increased and countless women got married off to pay debts.

Women activists say the Houthis are much worse than their predecessors when it comes to the status of women. In the absence of law and order, Yemeni women’s presence on the social, political and humanitarian levels shrunk, and their basic rights to medicine, food, education, security and health were lost.

In the forgotten city of Taiz, in southwestern Yemen, women’s sufferings are magnified. Nour, a woman from Taiz, said “my neighbour asked me to give her some flour to feed her children.

When I asked her why relief organisations don’t give her food, she said such organisations don’t deliver food to everyone and that there were people whose dignity was more precious than to ask for food.

These people don’t receive anything from relief organisations. She added that the process of distributing food is conducted according to favouritism and personal contacts.”

Um Mohamed, while trying to prepare a meal for her family, said she had to walk long distances to bring water and firewood. “We have been forgotten here in Taiz.

There is no gas, water, electricity, medicine, education or healthcare. In order to get some water, we have to stand in long queues. The living conditions are very difficult in Taiz.

Women suffer the brutality of war and the siege. Where are the organisations that protect women’s rights, and when will they help us if not now?” she asked.

“My mother is diabetic and has hypertension and I don’t know how to help her,” said Manal, a law student. “My sister’s abdomen was hit by a shell and my brother is disabled because of the war. We are living a humanitarian crisis. Famine is all around us, and we can’t access water, medicine or electricity. People live without salaries. Add to this the lack of security, the siege and the fights between factions the truth of which we know nothing about. We have been forgotten here, as if Taiz is on another planet.”

Manal added: “Taiz was the city of science and peace. Today, it is neglected by the state and organisations. We are dying every day. Our children die in our arms and we can’t do anything about it.”

“It is good news that people receive their salaries in Hadhramaut, Aden and Hodeida, but about Taiz? Until when will Taiz, the city most affected by the war, remain under siege?” Manal asked, crying.

Bringing water from faraway places and collecting firewood has become the women’s responsibility. Women in Taiz embark on these missions every morning, not knowing whether they will make it back home alive.

No Yemeni is not in need of help. Supplies given to the Houthis are limited to their followers or are sold in the black market for exorbitant prices.

The businessmen and politicians of Yemen have made their countrywomen feel bitter. Yemeni women are enraged by those men who gave nothing to their homeland at its time of need.

They fled the country, together with their money, families and investments, leaving behind a nation suffering the worst crisis in its modern history.

In addition to violations, poverty and famine, women have to put up with violence from their families, the authorities and the community. While bearing psychological and physical abuse, women carry out the responsibilities of men to provide the minimum means for living.

The ill die while their families can’t afford to buy them medicine. Mothers see their daughters die as they give birth to them, and their sons die of fever or famine.

When will the suffering of Yemeni women dissipate, so they can live in peace in a country of order, law and social justice? When will rights, humanitarian, health and food organisations do their part to end the misery of Yemen’s women?

* A version of this article appears in print in the 10 January, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: The forgotten women of Yemen

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