Yemen

Yemeni women take the lead in the fight against COVID-19

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A training workshop for women volunteers, whom will learn to sew and prepare protective face masks and suits © UNDP Yemen/2020

“The purpose of our hard work is not just to protect our community, but also to protect ourselves and our families,” says Umm Zakariya, an experienced seamstress who wanted to use her skills to give back.

With limited access to personal protective equipment (PPE), women just like Umm Zakariya, took things into their own hands to protect the health of their communities and loved ones.

Established in the northwest district of Kuhlan Affar, these Yemeni women are leading efforts to produce PPE, including face masks and suits, for frontline healthcare workers and the people affected by COVID-19.

Umm Zakariya, 38, is a volunteer trainer and supervisor at the protective masks production centre. “Over 12 days, volunteers were trained in sewing and producing surgical face masks and protective clothing,” she explained. “These girls and women are very enthusiastic about working and contributing to the community. Once we had sewing machines and tools for making PPE, we put our shoulder to the wheel.”

Having started in early June, these women have already produced thousands of masks and several suits to help keep their community safe from COVID-19. “Since face masks are one of the most important methods of protection against the coronavirus, we started producing and distributing them free of charge with the support of the Social Fund for Development [SFD],” says Umm Zakariya. “In fact, we’ve been able to produce 90 – 100 masks and three protective suits a day,” she explains, adding that her contribution in fighting the virus is very gratifying “especially as prices escalated.”

Efforts to protect medical personnel

Community-based initiatives in Hajjah Governorate are considered critical to ensure PPE availability and to control the spread of COVID-19. In particular, the need to manufacture face masks and protective clothing that conform to medical specifications was highlighted throughout the training and implementation process to ensure frontline healthcare workers could benefit too.

“I was nominated by the village council to serve on the community initiative team and was trained in the basics of sewing face masks and protective clothing,” explains Zamzam Al-Jaboubi, a member of the production team. “We work daily from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at one of the village schools. We make sure that the masks and protective suits conform to the required specifications,” she says. “I’m delighted with my work and very proud to serve my country, generally, and my community, particularly,” Zamzam adds.

Following the arrival of COVID-19 in Yemen, and the soaring price of PPE in local markets, medical personnel struggled to obtain what they needed to safely provide care. “SFD received requests for face masks from healthcare and quarantine centres. The idea to start local production was adopted by the Village Cooperation Councils in different districts where Al-Tamkeen (Empowerment) Programme is operating – and where it has received a great response,” describes Al-Ezzi Al-Khaiwani, an engineer and project officer with SFD in Hajjah Governorate.

“SFD provided the required materials for the manufacture of masks, training of female volunteers, and production supervision,” explains Al-Khaiwani. “The initiative then was expanded by women in three other districts in the governorate, underlining the key role of women in creating a spirit of collaboration between citizens in the face of the pandemic.” In total, 76 girls and women have been trained in PPE manufacture.

“Given their ease of manufacture and the community’s ability to produce them, face masks were prioritised in production,” says Al-Khaiwani. She added that this initiative has helped produce more than 6,000 masks and 50 protective suits so far, which were delivered to local health authorities and distributed, in accordance with priorities and needs, to health facilities and quarantine centres.

SFD’s Al-Tamkeen Programme supports local communities by organising them into networks and programmes such as village cooperation councils and sub-district development committees. This model works to mobilise and empower communities to spearhead their own development.

Funded and supported by the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank, the Yemen Emergency Crisis Response Project (YECRP) is implemented by the Social Fund for Development (SFD) and the Public Works Project (PWP). The US$400 million project provides economic stimuli in the form of cash-for-work projects, support to small businesses, and labor-intensive repairs of socio-economic assets, benefiting vulnerable local households and communities across Yemen.