The soft face of Shabwa’s tribes
In a tribal area described by some people as a thriving environment for fundamental religious groups, Al-Sabaee, who goes unveiled, is trying to reverse the stereotypical image about tribes created by the media. She has been working with them as gynecologist since the age of 14.
Al-Sabaee, who is in charge of the Central Hospital of Attaq and the National Women’s Committee in Shabwa governate, represents women from the area during political and human rights activities held inside the governorate. She affirms that though there are many female activists in the desert governorate, only oil and terrorist groups receive attention from the government.
In a meeting with Yemen Times in Sana’a in late March, Al-Sabaee criticized the media coverage of Shabwa, affirming that media outlets deal with Shabwa as a stronghold of Al-Qaeda without shedding light on solutions for dealing with the militant group, which should include food, medicine and education for the 470,440 people who live in the governorate.
Al-Sabaee expresses her surprise at how the government only deals with Shabwa as an Al-Qaeda-infected area and ignores the diseases that claim the lives of women, children and men every year due to the lack of medicine and health care services.
She says that the Attaq Central Hospital received cases from Shabwa and other parts of Abyan and Marib, referring to the fact that it faces pressures because it can’t afford to provide health services for thousands of people, particularly as the hospital lacks certain medical equipment and personnel.
Al-Sabaee affirms that congenital malformations, involuntary abortion, cervical and breast cancer are serious illnesses that afflict hundreds of women who frequent the hospital.
In addition to injuries to which men are subjected during tribal conflicts and confrontations between the army and Al-Qaeda-linked groups, Al-Sabaee said that many of them face infections from chronic bronchus NA, prostate and kidney failure.
Al-Sabaee attributes many diseases to contaminated water and environmental pollution resulting from the oil industry. Primary indicators of an environmental study currently underway show that there is potential that the groundwater located close to oil fields, especially in Osailan district, Shabwa, is contaminated by oil leaks.
Indicators of the environmental pollution study suggests that the emission of greenhouse gas from oil and gas fields plays a significant role in air pollution which results in infections of chronic bronchitus NA for hundreds of people.
Al-Sabaee pointed out the lack of environment and health assessments of oil industries as one of the problems, stressing that the absence of a database impedes the identification of problems.
“Shabwa requires development that meets the needs of its society,” she stated, pointing out that security solutions adopted by the Yemeni government do not lead to immediate or effective handling of problems.
“Shabwa doesn’t need air strikes that so often kill innocent people,” she added.
Al-Sibaee was the only female candidate for local councils in Shabwa in the 2006 elections, competing with male candidates in Baihan district.
Though she did not win in these elections, she gained 500 votes in a race with candidates who had tribal and party backing, in a conservative tribal society.
Al-Sabaee points out that Yemeni women are more and more capable of being active in public fields and even in the most complicated social structures, stressing that the votes she got in 2006 changed her life and encouraged her a great deal.
According to Al-Sabaee, there are numerous women in Shabwa who play important political and civil roles, hinting at her role model Ietraf Ali, a deputy in the Yemeni Women’s Committee. Ali attended the national conference of women with Ishraq in Sana’a held last March.
Other respected activist women, such as Lina Al-Harithi, Kholood Yahya, Najiba Shaikh, Molook Bakarkar, Fatima Faraq and Lawzah Al-Kaheeli enthusiastically work in civil society activities in Shabwa.
Ali says that there are about 167 NGOs present in Shabwa, but that that most of them are not active, and that they lack the training and qualifications to enable them to participate in meaningful decision-making and development initiatives.
The Modern Nasha’a Association, led by Al-Sabaee, managed to implement a number of health and educational actions for children over the last ten years in different parts of Shabwa.