The struggle of Yemeni women between war and harmful social norms

Rehab Al-Dhamari Gender, Violence Against Women and Girls

Armed conflict, poverty, hunger and economic crisis have been severely affecting the lives Yemeni people over the past six years. Around 80% of the Yemeni population require some form of humanitarian or protection assistance, this means 24 million people, including 14.3 million in acute need.

GBV is wide-spread in Yemen

In the Yemeni context, gender-based violence (GBV) is a very sensitive issue. Women and girls do not report violence due to the fear of being killed, detained or exposed to further violence. Many forms of violence prevail in Yemen: “beating, cursing, shouting, mockery, verbal abuse, handcuffing girls, depriving girls of education, restricting the movement of girls” are some of the types of violence experienced by GBV survivors’ interviewed for a recent Naseej baseline study that was conducted in 2020.

UNFPA has also reported an increase of GBV incidents in Yemen by 50% in the case of physical assault, 35% of sexual abuse, 25% of psychological abuse, 17% denial of resources and 11% of child marriage. The baseline study showed that verbal abuse emerged as the most common GBV form in Yemeni society, followed by child marriage, deprivation of resources and physical abuse. Respondents confirmed that in certain cases the intensity of physical violence may endanger the women or girl’s health and lead them to seek medical support.

GBV is justified and tolerated in Yemen

The baseline findings show that 71% of the community members interviewed in four-targeted governorates: Capital Sana’a (Al-Sabeen), Aden (Dar Saa’d), Lahj (Al-Musimir), and Taiz (AL-Shamayteen and Al-Ma’afr), have justified husband’s violence against his wife. Women themselves agree that “a woman deserves to be punished by her husband if she leaves the house without his permission” referring to the societal practices that give male guardians the right to punish women and girls if they disrespect certain social norms.

Male interviewees in Dar Saad said that “a man has the right to punish a woman by either hitting or shouting at her when she makes mistakes, neglects family duties, misbehaves with her mother-in-law or when she wastes his time by calling a lot.” Gender relations in Yemen are formatted by culture, religion, social and political traditions, and men misuse their power and authority, thus actually abusing women.

Awareness-raising is key

 Yemeni women have been marginalized, lack access to knowledge of their rights and are often excluded from decision making. They are expected to support any decisions made by men. This often leads to limited capacity in self-protection from violence, coercion and deprivation. Such limitations mean that women lack space to speak up about their concerns including domestic violence. Therefore, it is important to raise awareness among Yemeni women and girls about what constitutes violence, as they are often not aware of their rights. The baseline findings showed how important it is to work with men and boys to promote positive forms of masculinity and non-violent conflict resolution.

Women’s Rights Organizations leading the change

Providing comprehensive GBV services with a survivor-centred approach proves to be very difficult. In addition to all challenges mentioned above, there is a lack of specialized service providers with the right capacities and skills. However, Yemeni women rights organizations (WROs) are at the forefront of the struggle to end GBV in Yemen.

WROs play a key role in raising awareness of GBV as well as providing services to GBV survivors, including safe spaces to report or talk about their GBV experiences. Their work is highly appreciated by the Naseej female baseline study respondents, who also emphasized that if such organizations were to increase their advocacy work to end impunity for perpetrators of GBV, they would gain even more community trust. However, the baseline study highlighted a different position of male participants who had negative views on the work of WROs, claiming that WROs are empowering women against their husbands.

The Naseej project  will focus on providing much needed support to 4 WROs working on the frontline to deliver immediate and vital GBV services, as well as raise awareness with all members of the targeted communities, including men, boys, local leaders and decision-makers. Naseej will continue to challenge abusive social norms, traditions and practices that still make GBV such a widespread phenomenon in Yemen.

Note on methodology

This piece is based on data collected as part of the Naseej project baseline study conducted between the 14th and the 29th of September 2020 in the 4 governorates of Capital Sana’a (Al-Sabeen), Aden (Dar Saa’d), Lahj (Al-Musimir), and Taiz (AL-Shamayteen and Al-Ma’afr). The study included 180 survey respondents between 17 and 60 years old. 8 Focus Groups were organized, in addition to 12 GBV experts interviews as well as 8 GBV survivors interviews.


Rehab Al-Dhamari