Yemeni Women Will Pay the Highest Cost for Failed Diplomacy
Last month marked the beginning of the Saudi-Emirati coalition’s bombing campaign of the Yemeni port city of Hudaydah. Titled “Operation Golden Victory,” the campaign seeks to expel Houthi rebels from the port and regain control of the city. Aside from its strategic location along the Red Sea, the port is considered a lifeline for nearly two-thirds of Yemen’s population. As one of the main entry points for food and aid, it accounts for about 37 percent of fuel imports and 69 percent of food imports. The UN has warned that following through with the campaign may cost up to 250,000 lives and the loss of aid to millions. The US has also urged the coalition to stop the campaign. The warnings of both groups, however, have fallen upon deaf ears. Current fighting in Hudaydah has forced over 121,000 people to flee their homes. If the campaign moves forward and a diplomatic solution is not found, Yemeni women will pay the highest price.
Prolonged fighting, lack of access to aid, and the destruction of infrastructure has already created special needs and challenges for women. Although the instability brought about by the three-year civil war has led them to take on leadership positions and increasing responsibilities, they have not been provided with the appropriate amount of resources to properly carry out their newly found roles. As fighting pauses for peace talks and diplomacy is given a second chance, future policy should be shaped with consideration of women at the forefront.
Food and resources account for the bulk of current troubles surrounding women. Combined with children, they already account for 76 percent of those displaced. In addition to rising prices, displacement has made it increasingly difficult for women to encounter food for their families. Approximately 8.8 million women and girls are in need of urgent food assistance. Furthermore, around 2.9 million women and children are acutely malnourished, while an additional 400,000 children are fighting for their lives. Since nearly a third of the population relies completely on food aid, the threat of a prolonged battle in Hudaydah could significantly intensify cases of malnutrition, which has already had a deadly effect on women and children.
Malnutrition has posed the greatest threat to mothers and pregnant women. At the onset of the conflict, Yemen had one of the highest maternal mortality ratios in the Middle East, where the risk of dying from pregnancy related causes was 1 in 60. Only a third of reproductive health facilities are currently functioning and midwives have started to operate on their own, despite the risks that the conflict poses to their lives. Many women have had trouble gaining access to health facilities, and have been prevented from receiving regular check-ups. As a result, an estimate of 1.1 million pregnant and breast-feeding women are malnourished. Additionally, 75,000 pregnant women are vulnerable to developing complications. Overall, 3.25 million women of reproductive age are facing increased health and protection risks.
Young girls also face distinct challenges, including child marriage, lack of formal education, and gender-based violence. Rates of child marriage jumped from 52 percent in 2016 to almost 66 percent in 2017. Among the many concerns of the rise in child marriage is the influence it will have on girls’ future education, as many girls tend to disrupt their schooling after marriage. Around two million children are already out of school, and with the increase in child marriage, Yemen is in danger of having a generation without formal schooling. Three million girls and women alike are at risk of gender-based violence, while 60,000 women are at risk of sexual violence. Although these numbers may seem high, the complete scale of gender-based violence is incomplete, as many cases go unreported.
Turkey has expressed concern over the situation in Yemen and called for the avoidance of any steps that may complicate the crisis. In its commitment to supporting the peace and stability of Yemen, Turkey has also been a leader of providing aid to the country. In May, it developed a cooperation protocol with Qatar to donate $1 million. In addition to the million dollar donation, which would be used for food aid, the protocol also included the construction of a gastroenterological endoscopic treatment center at a hospital. As part of an emergency aid program, Turkey’s IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation has also been devoted to providing food aid.
Further international efforts to alleviate the humanitarian crisis, and cater to the specific needs of women, have slowly taken foot in the past couple of years. UNFPA, as an example, provided over 2.5 million people with sexual and reproductive health services in 2017. It is also working to cover the cost of healthcare for impoverished families. However, these efforts and countless others like them will be carried out in vain if they are not supported by diplomacy, funding, and sincere endeavors to resolve the conflict. Hudaydah represents a crossroads for the civil war, and whatever step is taken next will have significant consequences for the future of Yemeni women.