Today I attended a discussion about Yemeni women at the Woodrow Wilson Center featuring Sultana Al-Jeham, a public policy scholar at the center and Executive Director and Chairwoman of woman’s affairs’ at the Civic Democratic Initiatives Support Foundation (CDF) in Yemen. The discussion, titled, “Yemeni Women: Challenges and Little Hope,” was indeed a sobering account on the issues affecting Yemeni women. Yemeni women face problems in the areas of equality, education, health, political participation, poverty and marriage.
According to Al-Jeham, 75% of Yemeni women live in rural areas and lack access to basic services such as education and health care. In fact, 59% of women are illiterate, and females are outnumbered two-to-one in schools by males. In addition, women are married young and produce an average of 5.2 children and even if women want to use birth control, they have limited access to it, or are not properly educated on how to use it. In terms of economics, most women are employed in unpaid agricultural family businesses due to a lack of opportunities. Women are also politically marginalized as there is only one woman out of 301 members of parliament. Although civil law recognizes the rights of women, there is a stark contrast between rhetoric and implementation that needs to be reconciled. Al-Jeham advocates increasing social awareness of women’s issues through education and improving their conditions through direct aid.
The poor conditions of Yemeni women are also augmented by conflict. Whether it be tribal or religious conflict, women always fall victim to internal strife. Their access to schools, health care, and economic livelihood decreases even more. The same situation can seen with Palestinian women, whose standards of living have decreased drastically under occupation. Some women endure difficulty in earning a living as their land has been confiscated and their homes demolished due to the building of the controversial security wall by Israel. The physical restriction of movement through checkpoints causes complications as well, and has resulted in 46 Palestinian women giving birth while waiting to pass. Such a lack of access to basic amenities places an especially taxing burden on women.
Women have been marginalized for too long, especially in the Middle East. The social injustices towards women must be redressed in the name of equity and stability. The agenda of Al-Jeham, advocating equality and justice for women, must be realized throughout the region and not just Yemen.