What does it mean to be a Yemeni woman? How does it feel to be raised in the worst country in the world on gender equality? Glad you asked, but I must warn you. It’s not going to be an easy answer.
To be a Yemeni woman, means that you must carry a huge burden on your shoulders for as long as you live.
It means being constantly reminded that for some reason you are carrying the honor of the whole village. The honor can definitely expand and shrink based on the situation.
As a Yemeni woman, if you’re with someone who happens to be from the same country or a neighboring one you can surely expect them to feel responsible to (or rather have the right to) tell you what to do. This is because your actions for some reason affect them.
So, you have to be careful, to save your tribe’s face! But careful of what exactly? Well, the list is endless. To be on the safe side, all you must do is have a man’s permission. The permission needs to be received before doing anything major in your life or considered unusual in society. Which man are you talking about though? Again, the list is long. If you’re married, you’d need your husband’s permission, if not, it’s your father’s and brothers’ permission you need. If they aren’t available, you need a family member, or any man from your tribe.
I’ve seen this with women from different Arab countries, not just in Yemen, but I can mostly talk about Yemen. I lived there for two decades of my life so I know what I’m talking about. So let’s dive into women’s role in Yemen and how its political instability is affecting women.
There’s a gender role shift in Yemen.
Yemeni women had their fingerprints in 2011 revolution. In fact, Nobel committee recognized it when they awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize to Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman. She was one of three women who jointly received the award that year.
Now, Yemen is entering its 5th year of war. The economy has collapsed. There’s a shift in gender roles, as women are seeking work to help support their families. One could ask if women’s empowerment is on the rise in Yemen.
The situation for women and girls is far from perfect.
On paper, this all sounds promising. The revolution and the war seem to empower women in a way.
Given that Yemen is a highly patriarchal society, most women in Yemen are raised convinced that men are their guardians. It’s not easy to shift this mentality.
All these changes in roles has led to a sharp increase in domestic violence.
According to the United Nations, around three million women and girls in Yemen are at risk of gender-based violence. Assaults and abuse targeting women increased 63 percent. Child marriage rates have escalated to 66 per cent, as of 2017. According to Yemeni Women Union (YWU) violence against women has further increased because of Covid-19.
What about the law?
Gender discrimination is common in Yemen. There aren’t any women in parliament, although women are supposed to get 30% of the seats under the law. Women hold fewer than 20 percent of executive positions in the country.
Article 40 and 41 unification constitution of Yemen stipulates that all citizens are considered equal before the law. It states “Every citizen has the right to participate in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the country”.
However, there are many laws that discriminate against women. Women cannot marry without the approval of their male guardians. They don’t have equal rights to divorce, inheritance or child custody.
What’s next for women in Yemen?
Clearly, Yemen has a long way to go to achieve gender equality and there’s so much that needs to be done. Because of the devastating situation the country is in, the focus has shifted away from discrimination of women.
Famine, the death toll, COVID -19, and other issues are taking the light away from the severe gender inequality in the country.
Let’s not forget that women represent around 50% of the society. If half of society is silenced and disregarded the country will never thrive. Gender inequality is the root of the problem. It’s an issue that needs to be addressed!