SANA’A, Yemen — A study conducted by the Global Gender Gap Index in 2013 ranked the status of women’s freedoms by country according to four institutional measures. Out of the 136 countries that were analyzed, Yemen was ranked the lowest, meaning it contains the worst conditions for women.
The four criterion by which countries were evaluated included: economic participation and income equality in the private sector, educational achievements in regards to school enrollment and literacy rates, levels of health and life expectancy for women and political participation, specifically how many women hold seats in office and the number of female leaders.
In 2011, Yemenis packed the streets of the city Sana’a during the Arab Spring. Both men and women alike protested the corrupt regime that had been oppressing them for over 30 years. Yemeni women were imbedded in the fight to remove President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and the outlook appeared promising for the improvement of women’s rights.
Even though the people of Yemen were successful in ousting Saleh, living conditions are still harsh due to the failing economy and political instability. About half of the population lives in poverty, and one in every two children is hungry and thus, malnourished.
Struggles with Education and Employment
Unfortunately, conditions for women have taken a turn for the worse as well. The rate of Yemeni women enrolled in academic institutions is low, leaving the majority of the female population illiterate. Consequently, jobs are scarce for women, leaving them little opportunity to build a life for themselves and contribute to their country’s economy.
According to the World Bank, unemployment in Yemen is at a whopping 40%. With such a vast number of people searching for employment, the job market has become even more competitive and favorable towards men. To put it in perspective, roughly 80% of accounting jobs go to males.
Women also claim that the education they receive is not practical, and many graduate without even learning how to create a résumé. They assert that they are not taught necessary communication skills as well, making it increasingly more difficult to convey their qualifications to interviewers.
The Yemeni women who do land jobs face drastic inequalities in regards to the salary they receive. A woman in certain positions makes about $75 dollars a month as opposed to their male counterpart, who makes around $750 a month.
Other Encroachments on Yemeni Women’s Rights
Traditionally, women’s roles in Yemen are heavily concentrated within the home, and about half of them get married before they are 18. There have been instances of girls as young as nine years old getting married to men around four times their age. There are many health issues that coincide with early marriages, particularly concerning reproductive health. Girls as young as 13 or 14 are attempting to deliver babies, which increases chances for birth complications and even maternal mortality.
The reason for the rise in child marriages is the severe level of poverty. In certain circumstances, families have resorted to marrying their daughters off to help their financial situation.
This decision remains consistent with Yemeni women in general not possessing the autonomy to make their own decisions. Specifically, women are not even allowed to decide whether or not they can leave home. Even when they are married off, and considered adults, they still need their husbands’ permission to leave.
Another women’s rights issue, which is commonly unheard of, is that in Yemen, a woman is considered only half a witness. In legal situations, and thus according to the opinions of the Yemeni government, a woman is not regarded as a full person. For a woman to testify and have it be considered legitimate, she needs the validation of a man. Women are also completely excluded from testifying in cases of libel, theft, sodomy and adultery.
Future of Yemeni Women’s Rights
Not all hope is lost, however, and there are women in Yemen breaking the mold and defying the desires of what people around them want. For instance, Nadia Abdelaziz Mahdi Alnoudah graduated from Sana’a University and now works training young Yemenis to prepare them for the workforce at the Yemen Education for Employment institution. She notes the optimism in many young girls, and teaches them the useful skills lacking in Yemeni public schools to help them earn employment. Alnoudah herself once struggled to find work, and entered the program as a trainee before becoming a trainer herself.
This type of program is proactive in its efforts not only to help women’s rights, but also help eradicate poverty. With more young Yemenis gaining skills that will help them benefit the economy through entering the workforce, levels of poverty will start to decrease. As for the other horrendous conditions that hinder women’s advancement, a more stable government needs to be instated with democratic ideals. Until then, these types of programs are necessary to help give women the most opportunities as possible, in order for them to improve their lives and their nation as well.