Yemeni rural women resist war, agony, and misery
By: Zohour Abdullah Al-Saidi
Souad Ibrahim works on her father-in-law’s farm from the early hours of dawn until late in the evening.
She only gets a few hours of rest when eating, or for some personal tasks, which are too private.
In an interview with “Sharika Wa Laken”, Souad, who is in her fourth decade, confirmed that her life is completely limited to farming, taking care of the land, and cultivating it.
Add to this her raising livestock, and the burdens of the caregiving duties imposed on her by society, such as pregnancy, childbirth, and raising children.
Souad, a mother of 7, four of whom are males, lives in a small village called Al-Hujair, in the countryside of Al-Khawkha district in Hodeidah governorate, western Yemen.
She is one of tens of thousands of women in rural Yemen in general, and the Tuhami plain in particular, who found themselves facing incessant misery.
Souad told our platform: “We are very disgruntled in farming, in caring for livestock, fetching water, and collecting firewood and fodder for sheep and cows. We reap little gain. We barely get enough to satisfy our hunger and the hunger of our sons and daughters.”
Yemeni rural women: an incessant toil
Rural women in Yemen suffer double-fold more than male farmers.
The reason for this, explained Baraka al-Rawi, head of the Women’s Development Association, is due to “the prevailing culture in rural society regarding women’s work in the agricultural sector. They consider women to be the basic indispensable foundation when it comes to cultivating the land and raising livestock.”
Women in the countryside of Hodeidah governorate agree that the customs and traditions prevailing in the Yemeni countryside are the root of many troubles and various burdens they face.
Hajar Hassan, a rural woman in her third decade and mother of six, explained that “one of the most important criteria that a man and his family set when choosing a wife is her land work skills and mastery of agriculture, in addition to her activity and performance levels at her father’s farm. These are the criteria upon which a life partner is chosen, so she moves from one misery to another.”
Hajar added that she “works day and night on her husband’s farm, located in the Mahwa al-Subaie area, east of the city of al-Khawkha. She also worked on her father’s farm in a nearby village.”
“I wasted my life between agriculture and cattle and sheep dung, only to receive very little for all these efforts. A little which barely meets my needs and the needs of my children, such as food, clothes, and other simple life requirements,” she concluded.
The planting season in the Tuhami Plain usually lasts most of the year.
The majority of women there spend all the year on farms, between plowing the land and preparing it for receiving seeds, then following the growth of the plants, up till the harvesting stage.
Thus, these women are caught up in a cycle of unending misery and toil, barely do they stop until they start over.
In the countryside of Al-Jarrah district, we met Zahraa Ahmad, a lady in her sixties, who considered that the fate of women in the countryside of Hodeidah governorate was permanent misery.
She mentioned a popular proverb common to the region: “The drought of this country is a torment, and its goodness is a double torment.”
In an indication that women there don’t stop working on farms, even in drought.
During this period, they repair the land, removing harmful spiky weeds. They also put windbreaks of trees and stones.
Then they must always prepare for the arrival of rain so that another phase of toil and misery begins. They must also endure harsh living conditions, amid difficult climatic conditions, due to the scorching sun.
Ongoing war exacerbates rural women’s suffering
The war raging in Yemen for more than 7 years has imposed more suffering on the lives of rural women. It created other colors of difficulties and challenges.
During times of war and its aftermath, rural communities are becoming more dependent than ever on women, who have found themselves heavily involved in agricultural work and bearing the burden of caring for fields and fruits, after the exodus of male labor to the cities, some of them being forced by the war to emigrate outside their homeland.
Some studies and statistics conducted previously indicated that more than 60% of women bear the grunt of work in the agricultural sector, compared to only 40% of men.
However, the war and its repercussions on the humanitarian situation, which, according to international organizations, is classified as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, brought about a transformation of the demographic structure. As a result, rural communities in the country have become completely dependent on rural women for their livelihood, especially because working in agriculture does not require any educational qualifications.
What is the danger of women and girls working in agriculture?
Experts believe that the danger of women and girls working in agriculture may stand in the way of their education.
The war led to the deterioration of the value of the national currency and the rise in the prices of basic goods and services, which contributed to exacerbating the suffering of people in rural areas throughout Yemen’s governorates.
Besides, the lack of oil derivatives materials, their skyrocketing prices if available, and the suspension of many water projects have placed other burdens on rural women.
It also forced them to exert strenuous efforts, under harsh climatic conditions, while searching for drinking water and securing firewood, in addition to their main tasks in agricultural work.
Psychologist Abeer al-San’ani said in an interview with our platform: “Rural women in Yemen remain a prominent symbol of suffering and misery, at a time they gain nothing from all this effort. After all, the man is the head of the family, primarily responsible for selling cow calves, goats, and sheep rams. He is the one who markets the crop.”
She added, “While women and children are content to just earn a living. Therefore, many rural women live in a bad psychological state, due to the intensity of the incessant work that does not end until the end of their lives. They wish to die instead of living like a machine that works non-stop.”