Exploring Gender Inequality in Yemen


SEATTLE, Washington — The Gender Inequality Index (GII) was created by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2010 to expose the differences in the distribution of opportunities between men and women. The GII provides insights into gender gaps in major areas of human development, effectively highlighting areas in need of critical policy intervention. In 2018, the GII measured Yemen to have a GII value of 0.834 while the world’s average sits at 0.439, meaning Yemeni women have a lower standard of living compared to men. Here is how gender inequality in Yemen is affecting the nation and Yemeni women.


Due to structural inequalities, women and girls cannot easily access essential services in Yemen, such as education. The effect of this limited access is poor education and, consequently, low literacy rates. According to the Human Development Index (HDI), the average years of schooling that Yemini girls achieve is 1.9 years, in contrast to the 4.4 years that boys receive on average. While both are low, boys obtain more than twice as much schooling as girls in Yemen.

Education is critical for not only providing economic opportunities but is also key to political participation and understanding factors surrounding sanitation and health. However, the consequences of disparities in education are not only felt by women. Female education is especially important in developing countries due to the social benefits of maternal education. Children of educated mothers are proven to have improved health and higher test scores than children of uneducated mothers. Thus, restricting girls’ access to education not only represses them by perpetuating gender inequality but damages society as a whole.


Another consequence of structural gender inequality in Yemen is inadequate health care for girls and women. Yemeni girls and women struggle for adequate health care due to disproportionate impoverishment, a lack of health education and underrepresentation in politics.

A concrete consequence of poor female health care in Yemen is a radically high maternal mortality rate (MMR), with 43.2 per 1,000 live births. This rate, among other health factors, resulted in the 2018 HDI ranking Yemen as 177th in the world. Additionally, 18.5% of women suffer from female genital mutilation in Yemen. This procedure is immensely damaging, resulting in lifelong nerve damage and pain. Therefore, not only do women struggle to have access to health care, but the care they do receive is often detrimental to their overall health.


Thirty-five percent of Yemini women have experienced physical or sexual assault. These high rates of sexual and physical violence are a result of damaging gender roles embedded within Yemini society. In Yemen, women are forced to wear niqabs, subject to child marriage, honor killings victims and face divorce shame.

Child marriages and divorce shame are particularly concerning in contexts where abuse is present. With child marriages, girls are young, vulnerable and subservient when sent off into marriage, increasing the likelihood of domestic violence and sexual assault by their partner. Furthermore, divorce shame prevents women from escaping abusive relationships due to social ostracization. As horrifying as abuse is in any context, Yemeni women have no authority to report the crimes with both formal and informal legal systems discriminating against women.


As a result of gender inequality in the economy, only 6% of Yemini women participate in the labor force, in contrast to 70.8% of men. According to the 2020 Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum, Yemen ranks 153 out of 153 countries, meaning Yemen has the most massive gender gap in the world. The Global Gender Gap considers the economic participation, education, health and political empowerment of all genders.

In Yemen, the few women who do work earn a fraction of the wage that a man earns for the same job. This economic inequality results in Yemini women being economically dependent on their husbands, resulting in another obstacle to escape an abusive household.

The Humanitarian Crisis Disproportionately Impacts Women

This statement is true in several aspects. Firstly, crises historically increase sexual violence resulting in women being raped at Yemini security checkpoints when unaccompanied by a male relative. Additionally, women are targeted for sexual harassment and assault at political protests as well. The violence has become so prevalent in Yemen that women have taken to shaving their head to present as male to escape the atrocity.

Secondly, women’s limited access to health care has been amplified by the crisis with shortages of food, water and sanitation supplies. Thirdly, women have limited mobility to escape the conflict due to systemic gender roles, placing them with disproportionate responsibilities to provide care for their homes, including caring for children and the elderly. Moreover, the disproportionate impact of the humanitarian crisis on women is seen by how three-fourths of people displaced by the crisis are women and children.

Looking Ahead

Due to the severe gender inequality in Yemen, international humanitarian organizations and countries worldwide must continue to work together to aid women and girls in Yemen and improve their standard of living. The Borgen Project is advocating for the increased funding of $20 billion to the International Affairs Budget. Moreover, you can visit The Borgen Project website to get information on how to call or email your U.S. representatives to encourage the priority of international aid and female education and support.

—Lily Jones
Photos: Flickr


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