Helpdesk Report: Conflict and gender dynamics in Yemen

Originally published


Brigitte Rohwerder
Institute of Development Studies


What is the understanding of, and evidence base related to, the impact of the current conflict on gender dynamics in Yemen?

1. Overview

The current conflict in Yemen, which began in 2015, has resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe. As of March 2017, 18.8 million people are in need of humanitarian support, and 10.3 million are in acute need (Sikurajapathy and Al-Fotih, 2017). Women, men, boys and girls have been affected in different ways by the conflict. This rapid reviews looks at the impact of the conflict on gender dynamics in Yemen.

Most assessments conducted on the situation in Yemen since March 2015 have been ‘gender blind’ (Basharen, 2016: 1). However, a very small number of research studies and surveys have been carried out by a variety of UN organisations and non-government organisations (NGOs) working on the current response in Yemen, which have focused either on gender more broadly, or specifically on women and girls. Much of the evidence focuses on the impact of conflict on women and girls. The available evidence is based on a variety of qualitative and quantitative data gathered in Yemen and secondary sources. Academic literature addressing gender in the current conflict appears extremely scarce. Grey literature often refers back to the same few studies. The reports produced by organisations working in Yemen, such as OXFAM, Saferworld, and CARE, provide recommendations and on-the-ground perspectives of the priorities, needs and aspirations of conflict-affected communities.

Yemen ranks last out of the 144 countries included in the 2016 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index, a position it has held for the last 10 years. Even prior to the conflict, Yemeni women and girls experienced systematic discrimination and marginalisation. However, some progress was being made and the 2011 uprising challenged the norm of women’s limited participation in society with women actively participating in the protests, while women represented more than one-quarter of participants in the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) in 2014. Conflict threatens to reverse the advances made in recent years to address gender equality in Yemen.

Some impacts of the current conflict on gender include:

  • Threats to safety: men and boys make up the vast majority of direct victims of armed conflict, forced recruitment and arbitrary detention, while women and girls are at risk from airstrikes, ‘kidnapping’ and sexual and gender based violence.
  • Recruitment by armed groups: boys face higher risks of recruitment by armed groups, which can be an appealing source of income for young people in the absence of other opportunities. Women have be involved in fighting for or supporting armed groups.
  • Gender based violence: displacement and the breakdown of protection mechanisms have dramatically increased the vulnerability of women and girls to violence, including domestic violence. Men and boys have also experienced higher levels of gender based violence.
  • Child marriage: poverty and social insecurity as a result of the conflict have reversed trends and led to an increase in child marriage, which is used as a coping mechanism by conflict affected families.
  • Freedom of movement: men and women face a variety of restrictions and harassment at checkpoints which affects their ability to get around and go to work.
  • Displacement: displaced women are among the most vulnerable and face problems accessing humanitarian assistance.
  • Female headed households: the loss of men to conflict has led to an increase in female headed households with women having to take on new roles as heads of households, which many are ill-equipped for. This can heighten their vulnerability and leads to them turning to negative coping mechanisms. However, some women have felt empowered by these additional responsibilities.
  • Employment and livelihoods: more women are entering the labour market and becoming their family’s primary breadwinners, as men are working less due to the conflict, leading to more openness to women engaging in different professions. Some men have felt resentful over this change in roles.
  • Poverty: the increase in poverty has led to negative coping strategies such as child labour; child marriage; survival sex; and begging.
  • Household tasks: men are participating more in household tasks since the conflict began, although women still spend more time on them. Tasks such as collecting water and fuel take longer as a result of conflict and can be more dangerous.
  • Access to services such as nutrition, education, water and sanitation, healthcare, and electricity: women struggle to access assistance due to high levels of illiteracy. They have experienced higher levels of malnutrition; faced problems accessing education; increased danger as a result of inadequate access to water and sanitation; problems accessing healthcare, especially maternal healthcare; and safety risks as a result of lack of electricity and fuel.