Yemeni women hit the worst as civilians suffer

Widows and single mothers are most vulnerable to country’s crumbling economy.

Water in Yemen is distributed to residents but is in short supply. (photo credit: THE MEDIA LINE)
Water in Yemen is distributed to residents but is in short supply.
(photo credit: THE MEDIA LINE)
Following the death of her mother from brain cancer, 15-year old Malak has had to learn to be the woman of the house. Now her brothers, sisters and even her father look to her to care for the family and their home.
Times have been hard for everybody since the escalation of violence in Yemen two months ago, but in a deeply conservative society, women like Malak seem to carry more than their fair share of the burden.
Malak and her family live in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. The city contains the presidential palace and a number of military bases – all buildings occupied by the Iranian-backed Shi’ite Houthis since their capture of much of Yemen’s infrastructure earlier in the year.
Malak’s home is dangerously close to these buildings, which are near targets for the Saudi-led coalition of aerial bombing. “I get very scared – the warplanes’ noises scare me,” Malak told The Media Line. “Sometimes when I go to get water and firewood from nearby, I see the rockets fired by warplanes at weapons depots causing massive explosions. Whenever I do, I run and hide to protect myself.”
In Yemen, it is customary for women to rise early to buy groceries from the market each morning, but since the start of the war this is no longer such a simple task. Um Ahmad was struck by a ricocheting bullet from an anti-aircraft gun early one morning as she made this “simple” journey. “The shrapnel struck my left shoulder – I bled so much that I passed out,” Um Ahmed told The Media Line. “I only woke up after I had received surgery twice.”
“The doctor told me that I was lucky – I could have been paralyzed down the whole left side of my body. Ever since then I have been afraid to leave the house.”
To add to the dangers of stray bullets and explosions that are now a part of life for Yemeni civilians, a severe shortage of basic goods has been caused by a land, air and sea blockade on the country. This has caused a petroleum drought for the last two months.
To buy just a single cylinder of fuel, Yemenis must register their wish to purchase with community leaders and then wait for up to 20 days. The cost of fuel has risen from approximately $7 a cylinder to more than $9. For those unwilling or unable to wait 20 days for fuel, then there is the option of the black market where the same product can be found for nearly $33.
A spokesperson for the Houthis denied that there was any major economic situation facing the country’s population. “The Economic Committee along with the Ministry of Industry and Trade sought to distribute fuel in accordance with the framework laid out by the Ministry of Oil and Minerals,” Al-Imad, a member of the revolutionary council ruling Yemen, told The Media Line. Any rumors suggesting that the Houthis were hoarding fuel were unfounded, Al- Imad said.
Representatives of the Yemeni Petroleum Company agreed with the message from the Houthis, saying that the Ministry of Oil and Minerals was overseeing the organization of distribution. Amin Al-Hazmi, the director of the company’s PR department added, “Citizens must follow the rules and not hoard petroleum products.”
Beyond the shortages of basic goods and the risk of being caught in the cross fire, other women are finding that the war affects them in another manner. A number of families have been left without income after being abandoned by the man of the house, who has left to join the fighting. A majority of women in Yemen, even those with an education, do not work.
This dependence upon the husband for financial support leaves many women bereft if their husband leaves them – many are unable to go out and find work as they have no experience or qualifications.
“I have borrowed money from many people to pay rent and buy food for my children,” Um Salim, a 30-year-old woman, whose husband left her and went to fight with the Houthis, told The Media Line. Um Salim, like many women and children in Yemen, was economically dependent upon her husband.
But it is not just husbands who are leaving their families behind to fight for the Houthis. Since the end of March “over 300 children were recruited to fight in various areas of Yemen,” said Ahmad Al-Qirshi, the head of Seiyaj Foundation, a local children’s charity.
Armed children have been seen on the streets of Sana’a, although no fighting is taking place in the capital.
Some religious leaders have expressed their disapproval of men leaving their families without financial considerations. “[In Islam] it is not acceptable for a man to go to fight in a war when he has a family to support,” Sheikh Hassan Mohammed Al-Faqih, who delivers sermons in Al-Saleh mosque in Sana’a, said. “A man came to the Prophet Muhammad and asked the prophet to allow him to seek jihad,” but upon hearing that the man had parents the Prophet said “go back and obey them.”
From this Hadith the sheikh indicated that in Islam caring for one’s family comes first and going for jihad comes second.
Adding to these economic issues, employment rates in the country have fallen as private-sector companies and organizations have closed down and left. Women have been some of the hardest hit by this.
Before the war, Ranim al-Mutawakel worked for a human rights organization. But like many non-governmental organizations it has been forced to close due to the violence. This has left Mutawakel without any source of income. “The war in Yemen has affected me directly – the economic situation,” she told The Media Line Outside of those Yemenis directly caught in the cross fire many civilians are still suffering greatly as a result of the ongoing conflict. As is always the case, the weakest members of society are hurting the most and in deeply conservative Yemen, where families are economically dependent on the male head of household – women are bearing the brunt of this pain.
Report courtesy of The Media Line.