Yemen is used to strong women. Modern scholars are fairly sure the ancient kingdom of Sheba lies in what is now Yemen where the famous biblical queen hails from. Queen Arwa al-Sulayhi was queen in her own right and is one of only three women in the Muslim world to have the Muslim recognition of monarchical status.
Both must feel desolate at the situation their descendants are experiencing in modern Yemen.
Since 2014 the country has been involved in a deadly and vicious civil war. The civilian population, largely caught in the middle, has been subjected to direct attack, landmines are common and people are regularly disappeared. Involvement from external countries compounds the situation and makes a solution increasingly difficult to broker. Certainly, as of August 2018, there is no end in sight.
Widespread famine and disease
According to United Nations officials, three-quarters of the population needs assistance to stave off hunger. 1.8 million children under 5 are severely malnourished, and the weakened population is at risk from a cholera outbreak which has already killed more than 2,000 since 2017. Without and infrastructure which can deliver clean water there is a desperate need for food and clean water which is being prevented from reaching by the fighting.
A bad situation made worse
In the case of one sector of the population, the war has made their situation immeasurably worse. Yemeni women are in an invidious position where war makes what was a difficult life almost impossible.
As normal life breaks down the burdens are falling increasingly onto women who are in some cases dealing with a dreadful situation without any education or guidance as to how to deal.
The Global Gender Gap Index measures equality on a binary scale. In the rankings, Yemen is at the bottom where it has been for since 2016. 144 countries are rated. Yemen is at 144. In terms of female political empowerment, the country is at 144; educational attainment 141; economic participation it has dropped to 141.
While it is true the war has had a great effect on the country’s ability to address these issues it was a problem before the war started. There had been some initial steps to address it, not least the foundation of the Women’s National Committee of Yemen, who has approached the issues they face with a level of real-world functionality which is inspiring.
Responsibility is not empowerment
Whatever changes the WNC envisages, the population faced with a fight to feed children and get medical supplies has serious issues to deal with. Necessity is forcing women into wider roles, but only because men are allowing it. It is not empowerment if you don’t do it of your own accord, even if you are brandishing a rifle at your enemies.
Domestic violence against women is endemic in Yemen, there are few legal protections for women, and a lack of education means that it will be years before Yemeni women can take an equal place.