Violence. Poverty. Starvation. This is the dire reality for millions of Yemenis suffering through the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. More than 20 million people need humanitarian assistance and at least 5 million are just one step away from famine. But it’s women who have had to endure the most.
Today, one in four displaced families in Yemen is headed by a woman or girl. They are forced to shoulder the burden of displacement, poverty and starvation while taking on the responsibility to sustain their families. With limited mobility and work opportunities they are often deprived from accessing basic services and healthcare.
Too often, girls are forced to drop out of school and marry early as a coping mechanism to deal with hunger. Gender-based violence and abuse are widespread and go largely unreported. Pregnant and lactating women are suffering from severe acute malnutrition and falling victims of diseases - like malaria and dengue - that were long-ago eradicated elsewhere in the world. Despite all the suffering, these strong and ever-resilient women will stop at nothing to build a better future for themselves and their families.
Here are their stories:
A cold firepit sits at the corner of Mariam’s shelter. The small mound of old ash is an unwelcome reminder that her family’s last meal was more than a day ago. A widow with six children of her own, Mariam also adopted seven of her nieces and nephews after their parents were killed in a bombing in 2015 that forced the whole family to flee their home. Now living in a temporary shelter in the north of the capital Sana’a, they face a daily battle for survival.
“Most of the time, we only eat once a day. I don’t have fuel or firewood, so we burn plastic bottles and rubbish when we have something to cook,” she says.
Before fleeing her home, Mariam used to work as a housekeeper. Sweeping and mopping floors allowed her to earn a little money to feed her family. But after becoming displaced, she has not been able to find another job and cannot afford the costs of sending her children to school or getting them identity documents. The lack of identity documents means the family is often ineligible for food distributions and other forms of aid, receiving only a fraction of the assistance they need.
Thanks to generous donor support, the UN Refugee Agency is helping Mariam – and another one million Yemenis - with cash assistance payments to buy food, medicine and materials to repair her shelter. It has also provided her with essential items - like mattresses and a kitchen set – as well as legal assistance to help her children obtain identification documents.
Sitting in her backyard, Jamila shares her struggle to find a source of income to support her family. This Somali refugee mother worked hard for many years until she was able to save enough to start her own family business. She now owns a herd of goats and sells milk and butter to feed her family. Although Jamila earns only a modest amount of money, she is grateful to have a roof over her head and food on the table.
Like Jamila, approximately 150,000 Somalis have found refuge in Yemen - from which at least 40 percent are single mothers and the sole breadwinner of their families. These mothers have been fighting for years to support their families, but the combined effects of years of conflict and COVID-19 have resulted in many losing their livelihoods and facing a heightened risk of food insecurity.
Najma was sad to see her school closed due to COVID-19. The nine-year-old girl enjoyed spending her days playing and learning with friends at the Kharaz refugee camp, in southern Yemen. But the past year has been tough as Najma has spent most of her time inside her family’s shelter. Her foster mother, Salama, does her best to help her with homework but is not easy because Salama herself didn’t go to school.
In Yemen, approximately 78 percent of refugee mothers and caregivers are illiterate. The country’s structural inequalities have hindered girls’ access to education for many years, resulting in a dramatic gender gap in literacy and basic education. Ensuring that refugee girls continue their education – even during lockdowns - is crucial to their empowerment and to the future prosperity of their families, communities and country.
Lubna fled escalating violence in her hometown with twelve other family members and ever since has struggled to find food. The money her husband makes fixing shoes is not enough to support the family.
“We escaped to save our lives. I received cash assistance three months ago and used it to buy food and take Danya to the doctor. Since then it has been a struggle. We live on a day-to-day basis, never knowing how we will feed ourselves. Often, I go to the shops and ask for food so the kids eat at least one good meal,” she explains while holding her baby.
Today, 40 percent of the most vulnerable displaced families in Yemen do not have access to income. They are selling off belongings, pulling children out of school, and sending them to work or begging on the streets just to put food on their table. Women are often the ones eating last and least.
Here is how you can support women in Yemen
Despite hardships and trauma endured, Yemeni women are remarkable resilient and continue to support their families and communities amidst the most challenging circumstances. By becoming a monthly donor, you can help us ensure they don’t face this humanitarian crisis alone.