By: Dr. Luay Shabaneh
UNFPA Regional Director for Arab States
The cost of the humanitarian disaster in Yemen is terrifying: A woman dies every 2 hours in Yemen giving life, and for every woman who dies during childbirth, another 20 suffer injuries, infections or disabilities that are preventable. Six out of ten births take place without a skilled birth attendant, 4 out of 10 women do not receive antenatal care from a skilled provider and one in five people suffer from mental health disorders.
For the past six years, women and families in war-torn Yemen, the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, have struggled to survive amidst devastation. Now, with a collapsing economy, rising food insecurity, and COVID-19 claiming lives, global support is needed more than ever. Solidarity can alleviate human suffering and save lives.
The loss of male breadwinners in any family, due to the conflict, adds to the economic burdens faced by women and girls. An estimated 20 percent of displaced women and girls are heads of households. This is especially daunting for girls under the age of 18 who currently head 21 percent of women-headed households.
Three-quarters of those displaced in Yemen are women and children, and the women and girls among them are in a particularly vulnerable situation. There are 6 million women and girls of reproductive age affected by the Yemen crisis. Their everyday reality cannot be escaped and their coping skills are stretched to limit. Women and girls bear a disproportionate burden of the conflict, as they strive to care for their families, and face increased risks of gender-based violence.
In the absence of adequate empowerment, support and economic opportunities, women and girls become vulnerable to negative coping strategies such as child marriage, child labor and human trafficking.
Child marriage rates are escalating as families try to cope with the economic pressures of the conflict. Nearly two thirds of girls in Yemen are married before the age of 18 and many before they are 15.
Yamen, a 30 year-old woman from Al Dhale Governorate, found herself alone with six children when her husband died. As a widow and now the head of the household, Yamen suffered verbal and psychological abuse from her community. In addition, her house was damaged by floods.
“Once my husband died the whole responsibility fell on me. The conflict had already made living conditions difficult. I could not pay the rent, provide food or basic necessities for my children,” she told my colleagues. Yamen’s life changed when she joined a UNFPA-supported safe space and learned new skills that helped her to stand on her two feet.
She received training on sewing and cash assistance to start a tailoring business from home. She also received psychosocial support sessions, which helped rebuild her self-confidence.
“The key to success is to have determination and the passion to learn,” she said. “Joining the safe space gave me renewed hope. Now I can educate my children and live with dignity."
UNFPA is working with partners to support the health, protection and well-being of women and adolescent girls in Yemen. Yet half of our reproductive health and gender-based violence response programmes remain suspended due to a shortage of funds, leaving hundreds of thousands of women without a lifeline.
To keep reaching the most vulnerable women and girls with lifesaving services this year, UNFPA requires $25.3 million, and an additional $20 million to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic that is overwhelming the health system. For the most vulnerable people, including displaced women and girls, safe spaces offer critical services amid the conflict, pandemic and economic devastation seen in Yemen. Today, 51 safe spaces are operational, thanks to funding from Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. Responding to a cry for help from Yemen saves lives and ignites hope for the future.