Over the past seven weeks in ANP 270, we’ve dove deeply into women’s health issues and have each chosen a country to focus on. After much consideration, during the first week of the course I chose to study the country of Yemen. After some light surfing of the internet I found that Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world that has the lowest gender equality for women and the least education of women. Examining the issue of gender inequality where it is most extreme in nature was eye-opening and provided insight on how the issue is so much deeper than just a lack of wealth. The women of Yemen have been subject to gender-based violence for as long as people can remember, and it is deeply rooted in the culture. In this final post I will be focusing on the health issue of gender-based violence and how providing opportunities for Yemeni women to have more decision-making power will change the lives of many. This is not just an issue for the people of Yemen to address, but one that the whole world should be concerned by. Using the feminist theoretical perspective, the social, cultural, political, and economic health determinants will be examined and critiqued.
Stricken by war since 2015, the country of Yemen has been in turmoil and every member of their society has been feeling the effects. Through a simple Google search a handful of articles can be found on the state of the country and how the people are being bombed, killed, and forgotten. The war is between Houthi rebels and Yemen’s internationally recognized government, and began when the Houthis took over Yemen’s capital, Sanaa. The rebels continue to overtake more parts of Yemen, and each invasion There have been thousands of civilian casualties and millions have been displaced. Some of the foundational issues that the people in Yemen are facing are increases in poverty, lack of access to basic healthcare, and loss of clean water sources (El Bcheraoui et al 2018). However, the lower social classes and women have experienced a greater misfortune compared to others. The women of Yemen have been humiliated by the war, suffering disproportionately to the men of the country. Women have been displaced, traumatized, killed, and exposed to the highest forms of cruelty by both parties at war (UNPF 2016). Global aid organizations have been planted in Yemen to provide food and basic resources for the people, but that is a temporary solution.
Yemen has a long history of gender-based violence and discrimination, often having less opportunities in life and power in making decisions for themselves. Only 2.4% of women make their own health decisions (Smithson Riniker 2012). Though there are many health issues that affect Yemeni women, the most prominent one is gender-based violence. There is a wide range of abusive acts that are included in the gender-based violence such as domestic abuse, sexual harassment, and rape. Women are also impacted by child marriage, disadvantages in society, lack of education, and lack of access to healthcare. About 92% of women reported that violence occurs most often in the home by the father or mother (MOPHP et al 2015). Gender-based violence has a great impact physically, psychologically, in the future well-being of these women, and the trauma from these events has generational effects (Bombay et al 2009). Many of these women have a distortion of their identity and suffer from depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (Holt 2013). There is no simple solution to an issue that has plagued this country for so long but continuing to raise awareness and providing aid will help towards finding a solution.
At the beginning of the course, five anthropological theories were introduced, and each had a unique perspective and interpretation of a health issue. To better examine the issue of gender-based violence in Yemen, using the feminist theory will be most beneficial. The feminist theory focuses on the nature of gender inequality, the role of gender, and how a situation is impacted by gender. The theory looks at more than just women, but also at the world, engaged through critical intersectional perspectives (Ferguson 2017). In terms of a health issue, the feminist theory looks at access to healthcare for women, if level of care is based on gender, and the differences in overall health outcomes based on gender differences. The feminist theory helps uncover the issue of gender inequality at the root, and how it impacts the health of Yemeni women. It also helps identify what steps women can take to protect themselves, and what services global aid organizations should provide to support the women. Another aspect of the feminist theory that will explain the intensity of gender-based violence is through intersectionality. Women’s lives are constructed by multiple, intersecting systems of oppression which are also affected by social locations in hierarchies of power and privilege (Carastathis 2014).
The social health determinant for Yemen have a great impact on women’s health. There are many social classes in Yemen, and many of the key life decisions have been predetermined based on where the person is born. There are even different levels of status even within lower social classes, meaning there really is the lowest of the low. When someone is part of a lower class, the impact of violence and access to resources is much greater. To paint a picture of the impact of one’s social class, though there has been material aid provided to the people of Yemen the distribution of resources is based on social class. This means that people in lower classes are getting little to no aid. Women in the lower classes have a lower level of education and it affects what they know about laws, healthcare systems, and especially about maternal and personal health. It is very difficult to move between social classes, but with shifts in policy there is possibility for change. Policy that is well-enforced has the power to alter social structures, and for the women of Yemen it is essential for their living. Changes in policy are necessary for building the future of the women, because it’ll give them a change to receive the healthcare and education they need. Unfortunately, the decision-makers in Yemen do not see women as a priority. The need for women empowerment is evident, and it must start in the immediate family.
Out of all the health determinants, the cultural determinants for Yemen are arguably the strongest. The country has a patriarchal structure to society that is reinforced by their main religion of Islam. It is written in the Qur’an that men can beat their wives, therefore, men in Yemen believe they have a right to do so. However, this statement may have been taken out of context to an extreme. As a loss of control is felt amid the increasing chaos of the war, sexual abuse against women increases because men can feel the comfort of a woman while releasing their frustration (Holt 2013). As men feel more insecure and powerless, the violence against women escalates. In Yemen’s culture, one of the most important social events is a birth of a boy and a big circumcision ceremony is prepared. However, there is no celebration when a girl is born. Instead the practice of female genital mutilation is done in thoughts of being able to control the women. From the start, men are the head of the household and make nearly all the decisions for the women in the family. The war has increased poverty across the nation, and the number of child marriages has increased. Young girls are being married off to men who may be three times older, in hopes of the family gaining a dowry that will help support themselves. This opens more doors to violence, because the child is not guaranteed in-laws who are looking for their well-being. Changes in culture takes generations, but as more people are aware of the value of women and see the importance of empowering them, change will happen.
The political scene in Yemen is under a great amount of tension, and it is where the war started. For the women of Yemen, political leaders have turned a blind eye. They are too busy fighting for power over the nation to take care of their people. Yemen had been a struggling nation even before the war, and even at the time the government wasn’t providing opportunities for their people. Health is a political choice because the government must set up systems for their people to access and obtain resources to be healthy. Due to the cultural climate that favors men, the women of Yemen continue to get the short end of the stick. An example of the consequences of disregarding women is that the lifetime risk of maternal death is 1 in 90, where the average woman has 6 children, and this number continues to increase (UNICEF 2013). To better provide aid to Yemeni women, the war must end, and the political leaders need to address the cries of the people. It is on the leaders to create an even plane for the men and women of their country, but many seem to have their own agenda.
The strength of economy is a health determinant for women in Yemen. For example, the difference in life expectancy between the richest women and poorest. To close the gap between health inequality, the government must provide more economic opportunities for women. The economy of Yemen has been shaped by its unique geographical and historical condition, which determines how the women are treated. From the perspective of the feminist theory, the parts of history that have determined the fate of Yemeni women are severe labor migration, nationalist struggles against local power, social revolutions, and hierarchical social classes (Peters et al 1995). This leads to race and class sometimes having more influence than gender. Providing more opportunities for women to have their own business or even keep the money they make will make a significant difference in their health. They will be able to use the money to go to hospitals, seek maternal care, and to invest in their needs. Since the government of Yemen hasn’t been focusing on providing opportunities for their women, there have been many programs by international organizations to provide aid.
Helping the women of Yemen will have an impact for generations. Gender-based violence is a public health issue because the consequences range from broken bones, complications during pregnancy, impaired mental health, and trauma. The sad reality is that nearly all women in Yemen experience gender-based violence and have suffered from at least one of the consequences. Luckily, there have been many successful efforts of global aid organizations that have helped Yemeni women into a new life. The Yemeni Women’s Union and United Nations Populations Fund have established several shelters that teach women livelihood skills and help them start their own business (UNFPA 2016). These shelters not only provide long-term skills to the women, but also introduce women to a supportive community. With women from similar backgrounds and experiences, they can counsel one another through trauma and try to build a future for themselves and their children.
Though the future of Yemeni women is still in peril, the hope is that enough of the world will notice their struggles and provide help. The traumas that these women experience daily, other women around the world do not experience in a lifetime. There are so many issues that these women face with the war and because of their culture, but there is little they can do to stop it. Hundreds of women and children die in the streets of Yemen, but only a handful of people around the world will know. When will we start to look at the sores in the world? Who will be by the side of these women and help them towards a new life? The best that we can do is to get uncomfortable and go directly into the land and provide opportunities for these people. Teach them skills they can use, educate them about their personal health, and share how there is hope and people who care about them.
Bombay, A., Matheson, K., & Anisman, H. (2009). Intergenerational trauma: Convergence of multiple processes among first nations peoples in canada. Journal of Aboriginal Health, 5(3), 6.
Carastathis, A. (2014). The concept of intersectionality in feminist theory. Philosophy Compass, 9(5), 304-314. doi: 10,1111/phc3.12129
El Bcheraoui C, Jumaan AO, Collison ML, Daoud F, Mokdad AH. Health in Yemen: losing ground in war time. (2018). Globalization and Health. 2018;14:42. doi:10.1186/s12992-018-0354-9.
Ferguson, K. E. (2017). Feminist theory today. Annual Review of Political Science, 20(1), 269-286. doi:10.1146/annurev-polisci-052715-111648
Holt, M. (2013). Violence against women in the context of war: Experiences of Shi’i women and palestinian refugee women in lebanon. Violence Against Women, 19(3), 316-337. doi:10.1177/1077801213485550
Ministry of Public Health and Population – MOPHP/Yemen, Central Statistical Organization – CSO/Yemen, Pan Arab Program for Family Health – PAPFAM, and ICF International. (2015). Yemen National Health and Demographic Survey 2013. Retrieved from http://dhsprogram.com/pubs/pdf/FR296/FR296.pdf.
Peters, J., & Wolper, A. (1995). Womens rights, human rights: International feminist perspectives. New York: Routledge.
Smithson Riniker, K. (2012). Women’s health in Yemen: factors influencing maternal and infant health, fertility rates, the public health care system, education, and globalization. Journal of Global Health Perspectives. Edition 1.
UNICEF. (2013). At a glance: Yemen statistics. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/yemen_statistics.html
United Nations Populations Fund. (2016, October 31). Violence against women escalates under Yemen’s brutal conflict. Retrieved from https://www.unfpa.org/news/violence-against-women-escalates-under-yemens-brutal-conflict