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In Yemen, women bear the brunt of a merciless war Open in fullscreen

Afrah Nasser

In Yemen, women bear the brunt of a merciless war

A Yemeni woman drags water to her tent at a camp for displaced people [Getty]

Date of publication: 8 March, 2018

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Comment: Celebrating women's rights today in an apocalyptic situation like the one in Yemen, seems an extravagant thought, writes Afrah Nasser.
While women around the world are today celebrating International Women's Day (IWD), Yemen's women hope simply that it will throw a spotlight on the unspeakable human suffering all genders are enduring across the country.

In fact, to celebrate women's rights today, in an apocalyptic situation like the one in Yemen, seems an extravagant thought. On the ground, women queue for hours in Sanaa to buy gas amid a fuel shortage, and in Taiz, women activists are a target of Houthi bullets. In Aden, women agonise over their missing male relatives, and in Hodeidah they are barely able to feed their starving little children.

Looking back, seven years ago, I wrote from Sanaa's focal point of the protests, dubbed "Change Square", on how women contributed to the anti-Saleh protests, celebrating IWD along with women across the world.

On that day, the women's protest was, to a large extent a political expression, reaffirming their political role in the uprising, and was not a specifically feminist expression.

Different political and anti-Saleh parties used women that day as a decorative tool to serve the parties' political agendas. However, many of the non-partisan and politically independent women, as I was myself, believed that bringing about a drastic political change would benefit women's rights in one way or another.

However, little did we know how the tide would turn, and how the brutal civil war to come would lead women to become this vulnerable.

The tribal culture in Yemen sees women as the backbone of the family and community

Yemen has been ravaged by a vicious cycle of violence since mid-2014, impacting everyone, regardless of social class or gender, but the problems women in particular are facing continue to accumulate.

When I began working as a reporter at the Yemen Observer in Sanaa in 2008, I was assigned the women's issues beat. I was reporting on the high maternal mortality rate in the country, the epidemic of child marriage and the battle to legally ban it and violence against women.

Read more: The Middle East's women are championing their own change

The more I reported, the more I realised that - contrary to the stereotypes - the tribal culture in Yemen sees women as the backbone of the family and community across the country. That culture ensures their fair treatment.

Nonetheless, following Yemen's 1990 failed unification between the north and south, and the interference of political religious powers in the nation-building process, these factors have put women's rights at a disadvantage.

Women's biggest problems used to be the institutionalised gender discrimination and socio-economic hardships as a result of Yemen's longstanding poor governance.

In Yemen before the war, gender equality was at the heart of the women's rights struggle [Getty]

Today however, their biggest problem is war. As Yemen has been ravaged by famine, cholera and bombardment, yesterday's problems seem like the good old days.

Nevertheless, most concerning to me is the vanishing state of justice in Yemen.

One UN report details how Yemen as a state has dissolved.

In Yemen before the war, in that relatively peaceful and stable country, gender equality was at the heart of the women's rights struggle.

Back then, Yemen's personal status law contained provisions that discriminate against against women in relation to marriage, divorce, custody of children, and inheritance.

Today, in war-torn Yemen, the conflict has led the entire judicial system to collapse.

Yemen has been ravaged by famine, cholera and bombardment, and yesterday's problems seem like the good old days

There is no one solid, functioning judicial system in Yemen today. The country is on the verge of partition between north and south, and there is no coherent functioning judicial system ruling over both parts.

The Houthis in the north have forcefully and illegally controlled the judicial system and are committing serious human rights violations. Asmaa al-Omeissy for example was sentenced to death on charges of "terrorism". Meanwhile, in the south, extrajudicial killings have tragically become the norm in a climate of armed militia men, with no justice ever being served to its victims.

In this grim situation, the country's women are one of the most neglected political groups. While they bear the brunt of the war, many are still manging political activism that needs our solidarity.

The "Mothers of Abductees Association", is doing great work, raising their voice against oppression and injustice. And to enhance Yemeni women's political representation in any potential peace talks, a group of Yemeni women under the name "Yemeni Women Peace Pact" supported by UN Women has been working since 2015 to enforce women's inclusion in peace talks.

With the recent appointment of a new UN special envoy Martin Griffiths, there's hope that international peace efforts in Yemen will take on a gender perspective, a demand Yemeni women peace activists outline in a letter to be sent to Griffiths today.  

Afrah Nasser is a multi-award winning independent freelance Yemeni journalist, and founder and editor-in-chief of Sana'a Review e-magazine.

Follow her on Twitter: @Afrahnasser

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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