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Yemeni women say lives are worse following revolution

September 25, 2012 |  9:21 am

Women

Following the revolution in their country, four out of five Yemeni women who spoke to the international group Oxfam said their lives, beset by hunger and violence, had worsened in the past year.

“We wanted jobs, security, an end to corruption and an improvement in services,” one woman told the group. “Instead we can’t afford food, there’s no electricity and there are guns everywhere.”

Oxfam said the food crisis is so grave that it poses a major threat to positive change in Yemen, where a deal brokered late last year led President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down. The impoverished country was one of a string of nations in the region remade by the "Arab Spring" uprisings.

But it is still grappling with grave problems after the revolution, many of which hit women especially hard, Oxfam found in focus groups that included 136 women across Yemen in July and August. The organization focused specifically on the problems affecting Yemeni women, who have fallen at the bottom of annual World Economic Forum rankings for the gender gap in access to health, education and economic opportunity.

The World Food Program estimates 10 million Yemenis -- almost half of the country's population -- do not have enough food. One out of four Yemeni women between the ages of 15 and 49 is severely malnourished, one of the highest adult malnutrition rates in the world, according to Oxfam.

To survive, some women have pulled their children out of school to beg, Oxfam found in its interviews; in extreme cases, some have turned to prostitution. Men and boys in some areas, meanwhile, are turning to smuggling the narcotic khat leaf to try to provide for their families, women told Oxfam.

The United Nations estimated that it would require more than $676 million to aid more than 6 million people in Yemen; only $272 million has been raised. The Friends of Yemen conference of international donors pledged in May to provide $4 billion to help, but most of that money has yet to materialize. 

On top of the strains of hunger, Yemeni women are also grappling with danger. Security incidents grew 10% over the last year, Oxfam says, as women and children were menaced by the spread of land mines and explosives, bombardment from above and gun battles in the streets of Sana, the capital.

The threats had pushed many women away from their homes in the southern province of Abyan, where they said they didn’t feel safe returning. Militants linked to Al Qaeda have done battle with the Yemeni army in the area, where U.S. drones have targeted the extremist fighters. Some of the displaced women from Abyan, taking shelter in schools elsewhere, were terrified the government would evict them.

While they faced these perils, women told Oxfam they have been shut out of government decisions, something they found especially frustrating after rallying along with men for political change. Activists want Yemen to ensure women make up at least 30% of transitional committees and government bodies.

"We don't just want food," a female villager from Haradh district told Oxfam. "We want to know the government is with us and wants to hear our views on how we can be supported to address our problems."

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Yemeni women sit next to sacks of food aid provided by the United Arab Emirates on a truck at a food distribution center in Sana, Yemen, on July 26. Credit: Yahya Arhab / European Pressphoto Agency

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