International Women’s Day: The courage of Yemeni women

Rehab Alkhouja: “Yemeni women are superheroes because in the midst of war, death, famine and destruction they are creating opportunities for themselves.”

Today on International Women’s Day every woman should celebrate her success. In Yemen we are celebrating women who are fighting bravely – not only for their own survival, but also against violence and poverty in a country at war.

Rehab Alkhouja, who works for CARE in Yemen as a Women’s Economic Empowerment Project Officer, celebrates her day by highlighting the role of women in war-torn Yemen:

“I am number five in the family. My mother gave birth to my four brothers and then I came last – number five. She told me she was so happy when I came into the world.

“I lived in a small village with my family until I was 15 years old, and during that time I saw many girls my age who didn’t go to school.

I’m so thankful that my mother cared about our education. It didn’t matter for her whether we were boys or girls – she believed in education, and made sure that we went to school.

“When I started working and going to the field, I realised how lucky I was. Because when women get the chance to have a proper education, they are able to stand on their own two feet. They are not vulnerable.

When the war started it destroyed many people’s dreams, including mine.

“I was planning to leave Yemen to do a Masters and PhD, then return to work in the university. But that didn’t happen.

I remember every day I said to myself that the war would end soon, but it didn’t, it got worse.

“When I started my job with CARE as a women’s economic empowerment project officer, I realised that we hear so many stories of women in Yemen, and about how societal gender roles are changing. Many have started to work for the first time as a way of earning extra income for their families.

But we don’t hear so much of their struggles to make this happen.

“I have discovered that there are two types of women. The first type is those women whose situations before the war were good, but when conflict broke out, their husbands were either killed or injured, or lost their jobs, or are fighting at the frontline.

These circumstances forced them unwillingly to become the breadwinners of the family, and today they are doing an extraordinary job.

“They are thinking in a creative way about how to earn income and survive: some work as tailors, others make food at home and sell it, others are making perfume. 

“The other type of women are those who experienced or are still experiencing domestic violence, whether before or after the war.

These women for me are superheroes. They are not only facing a brutal war like millions of others – they are also facing violence, whether it is from their husband, brothers, fathers or other male figure in their lives.

“I have met many women who go out to trainings and workshops without their brothers or husbands knowing because they are afraid of them.

Despite the fact that they may suffer if they are found out, they will not be stopped from striving for a better life.

“I remember Sumaya, a woman who was beaten by her husband. When she went to her family for protection, she was beaten by her brother.

“That didn’t stop her standing up for herself and her convictions, and today she proudly owns a shop selling chicken.

Women like Sumaya show that even through the constant struggle, they are making extraordinary efforts to survive – to succeed, to feed their children.

Portrait of Lara in Yemen
Lara (above) is a divorced mother of two children. Her husband used to beat and verbally abuse her, but Lara stood up for herself and managed to open a clothes shop in her house. She says: “I am independent now. I have my own house, I have an income and I can raise my children in a better way, learning how to respect women.”
Portrait of Wafa in Yemen
Wafa (above) is a student living in Aden. After she received a small grant from CARE she was able to open a shop where she sells bouquets of artificial roses, hand-made accessories and make-up. In the morning Wafa goes to university and in the afternoon she works in her shop. She says: “Yes, there’s war in my country but it is in our hand to either fight it or die.”

“Hearing these different stories always makes me take a deep breath and reflect on the importance of education. If these women – like me – had received a good education, they would perhaps not have had to face these appalling battles of violence, poverty and hunger. 

So when I say Yemeni women are superheroes it is because in the midst of war, death, famine and destruction they are creating opportunities for themselves.

“They inspire me to overcome any obstacles I may face in my life. They give me the strength of an eagle. 

On International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate this strength.

With funding from H&M Foundation and UNFPA, CARE’s Women’s Economic Empowerment programmes in Yemen aim to empower women through developing their enterprises, giving them the skills and knowledge needed for self-employment and entrepreneurship.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.