The war in Yemen, often called “the forgotten war,” has caused the death of over 10,000 people, including many civilians. Today, over 18 million people are in need of humanitarian aid and the country is facing one of the most severe famines to date and the world’s worst epidemic of cholera.
A Forgotten War
Today’s war is the product of mutual resentments between what used to constitute North and South Yemen and is the direct result of the failed 2011 political transition. Bolstered by the sweeping changes brought by the Arab Spring across the region, Yemenis protested against the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and demanded his resignation. President Saleh was thus replaced by Vice-President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, a military officer from South Yemen in November 2011. However, the new President suffered from the military’s continued loyalty to Saleh and the growing Al-Qaeda presence in the country.
A Shia minority armed group from Northern Yemen, the Houthi movement, who had opposed former President Saleh, decided to take advantage of the instability and forged an alliance with Saleh in order to overturn President Hadi. In September 2014, they managed to occupy the capital, Sana’a and forced President Hadi to flee to South Yemen.
This occupation was the spark which ignited what would become a regional conflict.President Hadi sought out the help of the Saudis while the Houthis are reported to receive military and financial assistance from Iran. Thus, what started as a civil war became a regional proxy war between the two great powers of the Middle East: Saudi Arabia, the champion of wahhabi Sunni Islam, and Iran, the leader of Shia Islam.
Gender and Conflict
For over 10 years now, Yemen has been consistently ranked last in the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index, which analyses progress in terms of political empowerment, economic participation, educational attainment, and health and survival. According to a 2012 study from the Cambridge University, there exists a strong correlation between gender inequality and conflict or instability. As much as gender inequality seems to foster instability, wars perpetuate these differences and exacerbate them.
In the case of Yemen, men and boys represent the majority of direct victims of armed conflict and forced recruitment, and they are four times more likely to be killed during a conflict. On the other hand, women and girls have become particularly vulnerable when it comes to access to health services, nutrition, gender-based violence and education.
According to Evelyn Thornton and Tobie Whitman, two experts in conflict resolution, women tend to “suffer more and die in proportionally greater numbers than men from human rights abuses and sexual violence, the breakdown of social order, the lack of medical care, and the consequences of economic devastation”.
Although many women have gained economic power and household agency as a direct result of becoming heads of households in the absence of men, political rights and socio-cultural norms do not evolve as quickly.
As a result, Yemeni women often experience the double burden of being the family’s main provider while retaining their expected role of primary family caretaker, in a perverse effect that forms part of the feminization of poverty.
The fact that the country is facing an unprecedented famine also impacts women more as they are usually the first ones to give up food in order to feed the children and the men.
The economic scarcity created by the war also tends to disadvantage girls in particular. They are the first ones to be taken out of school to save the family some money through child labor or early marriage.
In Yemen, girls represent 63% of school drop-outs. The war has also seen a worrying increase in gender-based violence. According to the United Nations Population Fund, some 8,031 incidents of gender-based violence were recorded in Yemen between January and September 2016, including cases of rape and domestic violence.