Working, not learning, the norm for women in rural villages
Taqia Abdullah wakes at dawn to begin her arduous day in Bani Hushiash, a village in Arhab district, of Sana’a. The rest of the women in her village do the same.
“Rural girls never feel comfortable,” Abdullah said. “Early in the morning, they prepare breakfast for their families. This is not the only work. There is a lot to do. Daily, they fetch water from the wells, 300 meters from home.”
After traveling from the well to home with the water, Abdullah goes to the valley and stays there until night. She gains YR 500 from harvesting tomatoes. Before returning home, she carries wood on her curved back.
She paused before continuing, sadly, “One day, I lifted a bucket up to the roof of the house. I broke my back. I am now handicapped. This is the sense of suffering in rural areas, where power, gas and water are difficult to find.”
Hana Hadi, who lives in Malhan, Al-Mahweet governorate, experiences the same suffering.
“Our village has been out of the coverage,” she said.”This is a real suffering.”
Hadi said there is no water, electricity, clinics or doctors, which negatively impacts women’s health in the village.
“We are deprived from health education in our village,” Hadi said. “There are no medical health centers or clinics. In case of being sick, we head toward a veterinarian to give us a dose of medicine we know nothing about it.”
Hadi said she is the only one to finish secondary school because her family is educated, unlike the uneducated families who, Hadi said, deprive their daughters of schooling. The locals said the lack of private schools for girls hinders female education in Malhan. There is only one school for both girls and boys, according to Hadi.
Hadi said she cannot complete a university education; there is no university in the village.
Educating girls in rural areas
Abdullah said she was denied education because “locals in the village disapprove of co-education. So they prevent girls from going to schools.”
Hadi said in her village, womencannot study due to the other responsibilities they shoulder such as fetching wood from the mountain and water or grass from the valley. The worst, she said, is the early marriages, which deny women their basic rights.
There is a maxim in the village that says for a mature girl, there is marriage or there is a tomb, Hadi recalled.
Ramzia Al-Eryani, general-secretary of the Arab Women Union and head of Yemeni Women Union, said rural women make up 80 percent of the Yemeni women population.
Al-Eryani said the Yemeni Women Union Organization conducted programs from 2004 to 2010 to increase the number of educated girls in some villages in Sana’a, Al-Hodeida, Lahj, Al-Mahweet and Hajja governorates.
“The locals there reacted positively,” Al-Eryani said.
In an attempt to solve the school infrastructure shortage, boys attended morning classes, and girls attended evening classes.
“The reason behind rural illiteracy is the lack of female schools that should be built in suitable places close to the villages,” Al-Eryani said.
Al-Eryani said a study was conducted following the programs, and it was found that girls’ enrollment increased in the targeted districts from 1 percent to 15 percent. In some areas, enrollment increased from 30 percent to 70 percent.
She said a parents committee emphasized the importance of girls’ education. Families were encouraged and motivated to push their daughters into schools. Prizes were distributed.
She said illiteracy prevents women from realizing the negative impacts of early marriage. For this reason, Al-Eryani said, the organization provided marriage and reproductive health programs.
“A medical team paid field visits in cooperation with the family organization to display the health problems through projectors, in addition to conducting medical tests and contraceptive distribution,” she said.
More than fifty percent of women in rural areas are affiliated with political parties, but they know nothing about their partisan affiliations, according to Al-Eryani.
Rukia Abdullah, who lives inSahman, a village in Khawlan, said, “We (women) work inside and outside houses, but we know nothing about politics. Women in Sahman do not take part in politics or elections. On election day, they just select the candidates recommended by their fathers and husbands, even if the man elected is unfit.”
Similarly, Hadi said women in Malhanvote for candidates based on the sheikh’s orders becausehe gives money in exchange for votes.
“Women in the village are mostly uneducated, and educating programs help them know about politics,” Hadi said.
Al-Eryani said it is not reasonable for illiterate women to take part in politics. She said they should be supported to receive education and then social awareness about women’s involvement in the decision-making process can be raised.
She said courses aim to explain how women can participate in local council elections.
“Thirty-eight women succeeded in the local council elections,” Al-Eryani said. “Six of them are from rural areas in Bajil, Otama, Sana’a and Ibb, though they only own primary school certificates.”
Al-Eryani said the government should support cooperative associations in rural areas to rehabilitate and train women in villages.