Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world, suffering from an unstable situation on different levels since 2011 which ended up with a dramatic and ongoing war that started in 2015. Yemeni people suffer from several issues related to health, education, livelihood, and political unrest. Around two-thirds of Yemeni people live in rural areas. In Yemeni rural areas, women used to work in fields side to side with men and taking on their shoulders the responsibility of raising kids and tackling numerous household issues. However, women's participation in public life remains limited as they do not get their legitimate right to learn, work, and participate in decision-making. Women's work in public life remains a questionable issue within Yemeni society. Due to Yemeni traditions, women's roles are largely centered around provision within their households. For decades, women worked hard to study and educate themselves to be active members of public life. Yet the society always formed women's participation in a specific role such as teaching or nursing. Yemeni women suffered from many challenges that hampered them from participation in public life or from being active members in the social or economic fields. One of the main challenges is the right to be educated, as Yemeni society tends to marry girls early which weakens their opportunity to be well educated. Moreover, women are not treated equal regarding the opportunity to work, as men are responsible to work and earn money in Yemeni society. Moreover, men are not accustomed to support women in household activities, which makes it difficult for women to balance between their roles in public, social, and political participation and their household roles. All these challenges are the main constraints for women that tend to deprive them of active participation in public life. For instance, even though there are women holding in several ministries, it is rare to find women in decision-making positions.
Since 2011, after the so-called Arab spring revolution, changes occurred due to women's participation in general in public life. The presence of women was obvious in Yemen in the political or social field, but it was always treated as a secondary role due to Yemeni traditions that give the domination to men. This change provided positive indicators of women's participation as they became able to practice casual work such as selling in retailer shops, where that was previously considered a shame in the Yemeni society. Since the conflict started in 2015, normal life stopped. In conflict times, men got involved in fighting activities, thereby shifting the burden on women to provide for the family. Since 2015, women found themselves responsible for family provision and economic provision as well. They hold the responsibility of taking care of the children, generating income, and take decisions that relate to their families' livelihoods. The status of women's participation regarding getting involved in the Yemeni society kept changing dramatically, as they found themselves focusing on the hardships of life since the start of the conflict.
There are many women who fought bravely to create their own space of participation against the social traditions. Fyrial Majdi is one of those brave women who decided not to give up and keep pushing to practice her right of participation in public life. Because of the conflict, she was displaced several times from a place to another, taking care of her daughter and her sick mother. She taught in a school for a year how to generate income to cover their basic needs, but Fyrial had a broad sense of responsibility towards the society as she created an initiative to support displaced people by providing awareness sessions and psychological support. Yet she ended up displaced again to another governorate. She worked with one of the local radio stations, and then she initiated her podcast called "Ladder", providing information on employment, psychological, and educational aspects. It is worth mentioning that Fyrial is still financing this podcast herself and she hopes that one day she can find support to sustain the podcast.
Fyrial is not the only one. There are a lot of women who found themselves resisting traditions and work in different areas in the trading sector, manufacturing sector, or service sector. In Yemen, it was unusual to see women work in shops, sales points, markets, restaurants, and cafes. This had changed to some extent as women have been forced to take the responsibility to provide basic life items for their families. In a study on the impact of war on women politically, socially, and economically conducted by AWAM foundation, the results indicated that there is a relationship between women's good livelihood and their social participation. As long women have a good economic situation they actively participate in society.
In 2016, USAID conducted a "Yemen Gender Assessment" about the financial dependency of women on men. Also, it indicated a large gap between men and women regarding employment as women have fewer opportunities than men. Moreover, the assessment revealed that women do not participate robustly in the informal paid economy, and instead dedicate much of their time to unpaid work in agricultural and household settings.
Indeed, wars have always harmed people especially women and children, yet sometimes war could impact women positively. The Yemeni society has become more accepting towards women's work as they concluded that their assistance is essential to survive and recovery. Women proved that they can be valuable assets to society through economic contributions. Yet women lack fundamental skills, tools, and expertise that would enable them to participate strongly and effectively. In my master thesis titled "the impact of war on income generation and expenditure on individuals from a gender perspective" it was revealed that there is a change of behavior regarding society’s acceptance for women's work as well as participation in decision making at the household level. Yet this change was induced by the war and it is not clear whether it is a permanent or temporary change.
In the same context, women's work is limited massively to basic economic activities or low leadership roles. It is remarked that women participate in small income-generating activities instead of creating large or medium scale businesses. An Impact Study conducted by UNDP-Yemen shows furthermore that women exchange gained skills and information to others, unlike men . Also, a market assessment conducted by UNDP-Yemen revealed that women demonstrated success in doing business by creating job opportunities for others, as well as sharing skills. Moreover, the study showed that women sustained their businesses more than men.
USAID. (2016). USAID Women’s Economic Empowerment and Equality Assessment Report. Retrieved from: womens-economic-empowerment-assessment.pdf (fhi360.org)
UNDP. (2020). Yemen livelihood and human security: Impact assessment 2017-2019. Retrieved from:https://www.undp.org/content/dam/yemen/Economic%20self-reliance%20and%20recovery/Documents/IMPACT%20ASSESSMENT%20REPORT%202017-2019-%20for%20print.pdf