The Impact of COVID 19 on Women Statement of Women4Yemen Network
Excellencies, Dear colleagues, Distinguished guests,
I am here today to walk you briefly through the challenges that Yemeni women endure because of conflict in Yemen and the reality of COVID 19. Yemeni women suffer a lot because of the conflict in Yemen. They face the loss of beloved ones, death, maiming, poverty, gender-based violence, displacement, and financial pressure. Despite all of that, Yemeni women have worked hard to survive, or at least they never give up. In Yemen, social norms made women more resilient, and this has been reflected during war. It is not an exaggeration if we say that “they open windows of hope”.
However, when Covid-19 hit Yemen, it shut down these small windows, unfolding a new set of extreme challenges.
Some of these challenges include:
War brings with it not only fighting but tremendous economic challenges. I’m thinking here of Yemeni women who work in what I’ll call the informal sector. These are women who work in small businesses like hairdressing, sewing, and home food catering. When COVID 19 hit, these women lost their small businesses. In Aden for example, the majority of the small businesses are led by women and they are all affected. One of the women I know said to me“Poverty is the best friend of Corona,”
To double their problems, women in areas under the control of the Ansar Allah movement are asked to shut down their business such as hair salons, while men who operate businesses are allowed to remain open. This sends a message that women’s work is not as important as men’s, despite women taking these jobs to survive the conflict and to support their families.
The issues of gender inequality goes beyond business. Hospitals don’t have housing facilities for female workers. Isolation centers for travelers are not designed to host women and girls. In every crisis, women find themselves with extra duties, and during this pandemic, they are the ones to deliver domestic caregiving and supervise the children.
3. Gender-based violence:
In too many instances, women are faced with the virus outside, and the abuse inside. In either situation, women find themselves trapped. Until now, there are no official statistics on gender-based violence, but women working on the ground report an increase of gender-based violence cases. These are largely the result of loss of jobs and economic situations facing men.
Even before coronavirus, statistics showed that a woman died every two hours from complications in pregnancy or childbirth, and only 20 percent of the health facilities provided maternal and child health services.
Coronavirus is making this situation worse, including the funding cuts to medical lifesaving services. The impact will be even more difficult now for women giving birth.
Then there’s the issue of health workers who continue to work despite attacks, and non-payment. The issue is much worse for female workers who don’t have safe in-hospital housing, and can’t afford private transportation to and from the hospital. And think about the mothers in this situation who have difficulty now with child care, and have to bring their children to the hospitals since the shutdown of the schools and daycares. Think of the threat there. Many also face pressure to quit their jobs for fear of passing along the infection.
5. Gender-blind response of Covid-19:
Long-standing gender inequalities contributed to worsen women’s situations in Yemen in light of Covid-19. And the current response for Covid-19 is gender blind as well. In Yemen, there is no consideration for the specific needs of women and girls in the responses to Covid-19 or the precautionary measures the various authorities are taking.
6. Increase of pressure/responsibilities:
Women endure more pressure because of coronavirus, including women relatives of detainees. They face extra challenges as they lose their income after the detention of their male providers, and because of the social distancing and the poor role of the concerned organizations to support them in reaching and visiting their relatives. That fact comes from the Associations of the Abductees’ Mothers. Also social norms assign women to be the ones to take care of the patients in the family, in addition to their daily chores and - often - their work outside the home.
So there are challenges. But there are also opportunities.
- As a result of Covid-19, women have the ability to have more access via cyber meetings, and can attend high-level meetings with minimum funding, and fewer logistical obstacles. In our network, for example, we held an online Iftar4peace to call on an immediate ceasefire and we were able to gather international women working in peace and women on the ground.
- Grassroots women peace-builders are the resilience power and the first frontline responders, therefore they will continue to find opportunities in these difficult times.
- Yemen has a young population and supporting them via the finance technology movement can be an opportunity.
- With the conflict and Covid-19 colliding, ending war is the prerequisite to focus on the true fight of our lives, defeating this virus as stated by the UN General Secretary. We call for the establishment of an independent committee in Yemen to monitor the progress of the peace process and the commitment of declaration of ceasefire. This will support the current mediations, and put pressure on all parties to adhere to their vows.
- Mainstream gender in all Covid-19 response actions and support women-led groups to monitor abuses related to Covid-19.
- Cutting aid is not the solution, so aid should continue while ensuring new measures to guarantee aid delivery, accountability and transparency, particularly during Covid-19.
In conclusion, I would say that the work to make lives better for Yemeni women was already challenging before but this pandemic has made the job all the more urgent. I implore all of us to do everything we can to help them now. Thank you.
al-Thaibani, K. (2019). Agents for Change: Women as Grassroots Builders in Yemen. Women4Yemen.
Humanitarian Needs Review . (2019). Yemen: 2019 Humanitarian Needs Overview . UNOCHA.
UNFPA. (2020). COVID-19 strikes Yemen as humanitarian funding dries up. UNFPA.
Women4Yemen Network. (2019). WFP decision to halt aid is an indicator of a larger problem of crushed civil space, affecting the lives of millions of Yemenis and threatening opportunities for sustainable peace. Women4Yemen Network.
Women4Yemen Network. (2020). Global Appeal for Ceasefire Requires Commitment and Accountability in Yemen.
Yemeni Archive . (2019). Medical Facilities Under Fire. Yemeni Archive.
Yemeni Women “Group of Nine” network . (2020). Yemeni Women “Group of Nine” network for the implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325.
This paper was made possible via various consultations with:
- Health professionals.
- Members of civil coalition: a coalition of grassroots women-led organizations established by Women4Yemen Network.
- Three peace activists.