Married when she should have been going into secondary school, fleeing the abusive marriage, then finding herself threatened at gunpoint by her brothers concerned with protecting the family honour, Farah’s experience reflects that of many women in Yemen.
As this is the week of International Women’s Day (8 March), we’re celebrating Farah* and others who have not allowed the cultural norms in their communities to shrink their horizons.
Having found the courage to go back home, Farah also went back to school and took a job in a newly opened centre aimed at giving opportunities to rural women. Her father supported this, but she faced daily harassment from other members of her family – cultural norms in Yemen discourage girls from attaining more than a basic education and frown on women working outside the home.
Despite the threats, she kept working at the centre, teaching women to read and write. When the centre was forced to close in 2001 due to a lack of funding, Farah was determined to keep the valuable programmes going.
She doggedly pursued other avenues of funding and her persistence paid off. She learned about a new government programme allowing the formation of cooperative associations to provide people with vocational skills and education. These cooperatives could legally apply for and receive funding from donor agencies.
Watering the seeds of change
Since the World Economic Forum (WEF) began publishing its Global Gender Gap Report in 2006, Yemen has always been ranked last among more than 140 nations in the report.
But Farah has challenged this inequality and the cooperative she founded has supported and trained thousands of women over the past 15 years, improving their skills in farming, first aid and literacy. The organisation has also implemented several projects to rehabilitate irrigation systems, schools, and community water and sanitation systems.
In partnership with Farah, we have helped many women and girls access reliable and safe water sources. Projects have included supplying water, improving infrastructure and distributing hygiene kits and sanitary supplies, together with training in good practices for health and disease prevention.
Better health and spending less time finding access to water puts girls in a better position to get an education. These projects also give women a fighting chance to succeed on their own and to have a positive impact on their families and communities.
Farah provides a great role model for them. ‘I’ve had to have a good, strong will to get here,’ she says. ‘If I fail, people who look up to me will fail as well, so I need to keep going. When I see examples of other women who succeed it encourages me to continue.’
The WEF introduces its report with the statement that gender parity is fundamental to whether and how economies and societies thrive. However, the escalation of conflict in Yemen since March 2013 has exacerbated inequality and gender-based violence.
Farah remains determined to play her part in ensuring women in her society have every opportunity they can.
* Name changed to protect identity