Gender considerations in the Humanitarian Response in Yemen (Last updated on: 17 Mar 2015)
Yemen currently ranks last in the Gender Gap Index and the Gender Inequality Index. In various domains such as education, livelihood opportunities, protection and political representation indicators display severe disparities between men and women. Concretely, in the humanitarian context, direct access to all groups of the population as recipients is a major challenge. Even if humanitarian stakeholders have established mechanisms to overcome the difficulties on the ground, a number of obstacles remain in order to reach out to women, boys and girls and ensure they are the final beneficiaries of humanitarian interventions.
Aware of this critical situation, the Yemen HCT and OCHA have committed to take concrete steps toward ensuring gender equality throughout the humanitarian response, with the objective to make sure that women, girls, boys and men of all ages and backgrounds have access to humanitarian assistance and protection that cater to their distinct needs and experiences. A Strategic Objective has been included in the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan (YHRP) “Ensure meaningful participation and equitable access to services, resources, and protection measures for women, girls, boys, and men”.
This document presents some general and sectorial gender considerations that humanitarian actors need to take into account when planning and implementing the humanitarian response.
General gender considerations in the Humanitarian Response in Yemen
- In Yemen there are important disparities between men and women accessing education, livelihood opportunities, protection and political processes. Women are disproportionately affected due to restrictions of mobility, decision making power and lack of access and control over resources. They also have poor access to information, whether it is regarding their rights, or helpful information such as hygiene promotion material.
- Unstable/conflict situations exacerbate the gender gaps, challenging the humanitarian actors when ensuring their services, resources and protection measures are accessible to all the population. Some factors are:
- A shortage of qualified female staff (doctors, teachers, engineers, etc.) in rural and conflict affected areas.
- Less access to official documents sometimes required to be registered and entitled to distributions.
- Increased limitation of female mobility due to insecurity, and lack of male family member to authorise women’ and girls’ movements and to accompany them to the services.
- The environment in some areas will not be conducive to female’s meaningful participation limiting the participation of women and youths in humanitarian processes and systems (needs assessments, capacity building activities, community committees) which affects the quality and outcome of assistance provided.
- Changing political dynamics lead to new gender dynamics. Each actor in Yemen has its own perception of male and female cultural roles. The more radical the groups, the more difficult it will be for humanitarian actors to ensure their response reaches the targeted females. Humanitarian actors need to adapt their response to the political changes. Negotiations with the new powers and creative assessment and implementing strategies need to be set up to ensure everyone has access to the humanitarian services.
- During conflict and displacement situations the number of female-headed households increases. Many men and young boys die or are injured when fighting away, or they stay behind fighting to preserve houses, lands and livelihoods; while women, children and elderly flee. For example, during the Amran conflict in 2014 partners and government estimated there were 10-16% IDP female-headed households. These households have specific protection needs that have to be addressed.
- During conflict situations, it is more difficult to collect sex and age disaggregated data; and gender, age and diversity analysis might be neglected if it’s not considered a priority by the assessment team leaders. This will have a negative impact on the quality, pertinence and effectiveness of the humanitarian response.
- An estimated 6.3% of wives in Yemen are married to polygamous husbands (PAPCHILD, 2003). These households need special attention when it comes to food, NFIs, hygiene kit distribution and to shelter assistance, ensuring all the wives and their children have the same access to the humanitarian resources.
Food security and Agriculture
- Less than 1% of agricultural landholders in Yemen are female. However, women have a major role in agriculture, providing 60% of labour in crop farming, 90% in livestock farming and 10% of wage labour. (IFAD)
- Female headed-households are more at risk of food insecurity due to the very few female work opportunities. Women are generally excluded from economic transactions in the local markets.
- When food is scarce , females are the first family members to eat less as a coping mechanism, even though they continue to do hard activities as for example working in the fields.
- Lack of official papers are an obstacle for women, boys and girls to be registered and be entitled to food distribution. Restrictions in mobility (due to security and cultural reasons) are an obstacle for women and girls to go to the food distribution points.
- Lack of jobs and opportunities might increase frustration among the male population not able to provide food for family members, and consequently resulting in an increased level of GBV violence inside the household.
Water, Sanitation and Hygiene
- Women, girls and boys are the primary carriers of water in rural areas. Men’s role is passive, especially if the water point is not in the village or within close proximity. This places women and girls under threat of harassment and potential GBV while going to wells and water points. Women and children are also at risk of being injured by mines and UXOs while trying to access WASH infrastructure and services.
- Women and children might spend between one to two hours fetching water for domestic use. This causes delays in other vital roles that women and children should play in their daily lives (for example attending school for children and carrying out economic activities or paid work for women).
- Women and girls are specially affected when they have to travel long distances to use shared toilets, or practice open defecation. Many choose to wait until nightfall (sometimes more than 12 hours), making them vulnerable to harassment or violence. Many also limit their consumption of food and drink to delay the need to relieve themselves. Both strategies increase the chance of urinary tract infections. The shame and indignity of defecating in the open and the lack of water for washing clothes and personal hygiene affects women’s self-esteem.
- Men, women, boys and girls lack of basic hygiene education. They are equally in need of hygiene promotion.
- The high maternal mortality rate is due to the low availability of reproductive health care services, with only 45% of deliveries attended by skilled medical professionals. Yemen has a high maternal mortality rate ‑estimated as 148 deaths per 100,000 live births (2014DHS). Emergency obstetric services (EmONC) are very scarce especially in conflict-affected areas. There are tangible gaps in the availability of female health workers and medical staff in the remote rural areas.
- Boys and girls have an equitable access to health facilities (each one represent the 24% of the consultations through the eDEWS programme). Women more than 15 years old benefit from more consultations (33% of the total), reflectiong the higher health response to maternal health. Men represent the 22%of the consultations.
- However, in some areas, women have more limited access to health facilities: they have to be attended by female health staff, they have to be accompanied by a male relative and the health facilities need privacy measures (curtains, etc.) to respect women’s dignity.
- In conflict affected areas, these obstacles are exacerbated, leading to preventable maternal and infant deaths, unwanted pregnancies and subsequently unsafe abortions. During the conflict services collapse, the existing gaps from female health workers increases and women and children have more difficulty in going to the health facilities due to security reasons.
- During conflict, men and male youths are more likely to be injured while fighting. They are in need of services specializing in disabilities including medical, rehabilitation and psychosocial support.
- It is estimated that 1,058,000 children under 5 are suffering from acute malnutrition (YHRP, 2014). In general the level of malnutrition amongst boys is higher when compared to girls. The significance of the difference varies from governorate to governorate, but for example, in Mazrak IDP camps, 25% of boys suffer from acute malnutrition, compared with of 19% girls (SMART, 2014). Possible reasons for higher levels of boys’ malnutrition could relate to earlier introduction of complementary feeding, as parents think this favors boys, and the early cessation of breastfeeding. Boys are also more exposed to disease, as they are permitted movement outside the home, unlike girls.
- Some 500,000 pregnant and lactating women are at risk of malnutrition. Those under 18 years old are more at risk.
- Men are often the decision makers in the family, including the decision about the budget allocated to food and about the preferred food consumed in the household. Most breast feeding practices are influenced by older women rather than mothers (especially young mothers), making them more prone to malnutrition problems. Fathers, male community leaders and grandmothers are important actors when enhancing good family nutrition practices.
- Escalation of conflict can increase the number of female-headed families, having less access to income opportunities and less money to ensure good nutrition practices.
- In conflict affected areas the services collapse, the number of female staff decreases, and women and children face more difficulties to access the nutrition services due to insecurity.
Shelter, CCCM and NFIs
- Conflict leads to destruction of many shelters and this forces families to live in very dilapidated conditions, such as living in the open or living in one single room. Some of the shelters lack doors, windows and roofs thus posing great risk to the occupants, and reducing their privacy. This is particularly problematic for women and girls, who must operate within a cultural environment which requires that they remain covered and out of view of men. These situations can lead to verbal, physical and sexual abuse.
- Women are in charge of the cooking, but sometimes there is a lack of a dedicated place for cooking in the living spaces. The collection of firewood is a women and children issue that might expose them to harassment and take time from other activities. There is an increased need to reduce women’s and girls’ vulnerability by looking for sustainable, alternative sources of energy for lighting and cooking.
- When beneficiaries require support from others for shelter construction due to their specific situation (women, girls, the elderly, the sick, the disabled, etc.), they may have to pay someone to assist them if they don’thave the support of male realtives or other male members of the community they can trust. This can expose them to abuse (including sexual exploitation), resulting for example in women and girls being forced to trade sex for shelter. It is important to ensure that they are not reliant on men other than family members or relatives to transport the kits or to undertake construction of their transitional shelter.
- In distribution and cash transfer-related activities, the lack of access to legal documentation needed for the collection might be an extra obstacles for women, boys and girls.
- During conflict men and young boys are more likely to be killed or injured while fighting. Civilian men and young boys can suffer from humiliation and denigration from the armed groups, arbitrary detention and summary execution. This leads to an increasing number of female-headed households that face specific protection risks. Changes in gender roles are accelerated in situations of conflict as women are forced to assume responsibilities previously held by men. But they face more obstacles than males to play this new role, as result of social exclusion, limited mobility, lack of support structures, communication barriers, and social perceptions (including how they perceive themselves) as weaker than men. That might have an impact to ensure the wellbeing and protection of the children.
- The weakness of rule of law institutions and protection systems disproportionately affects women, boys and girls, making them more vulnerable to grave violations of their rights, and significantly exposes them to exploitation and face multiple barriers to justice.
- Boys are more at risk of being killed or maimed during conflict. In 2013, 36 children (83% boys) have been reported as killed; 154 children (88% boys) have been verified as maimed (UNICEF, 2014).
- Boys are in higher risk of recruitment by armed forces and armed groups. In 2013, 127 children (all boys) have been verified as recruited and used by armed forces and armed groups (UNICEF, 2014). However, girls can also be recruited as cooks, cleaners, informers or can be forced to marry armed group members.
- Mine/UXO/ERW incidents are a greater risk for boys, as they carry out more activities outside the house. 77% of the children killed or maimed by mines/UXOs in 2013 were boys (HNO, 2014).
- Poor families send children out, especially boys, to search for work or food, but worryingly many of those ‘separated’ children end up living and working on the streets.
- During conflict, child/forced marriages are common, especially among girls, with a significant number of under-aged girls becoming pregnant. Some families have adopted early/child marriage as a survival strategy , minimizing the burden of the children on the family on the one hand and receiving some resources out of the marriage to sustain other family members’ life (dowry) on the other.
- In the first half of 2013, an estimated 4,000 children crossed the sea to Yemen en route to other Gulf States, many of whom suffered abuse, forced labor and exploitation (HNO, 2004). While a small fraction of these children, mainly boys, were rescued and safely repatriated to their country of origin, there is grave concern about the fate of girls and women who are assumed to be in the hands of traffickers/smugglers and subjected to sex trade and other forms of exploitation.
Gender Based Violence
- 8.300 GBV cases have been reported in the first 9 months of 2014, estimated at 78% women, 1% men, 18% girls and 3% boys (GBV subcluter report). Reported cases of sexual and gender-based violence almost certainly represent only a fraction of actual cases due to the difficulties to set up a systematic reporting system. But even when services and reporting systems exist, they are not considered by GBVsurvivors, due to lack of awareness about rights, and because cultural norms and stigma discourage survivors from seeking assistance. This is particularly exacerbated when it comes to men and boy victims/survivors. Partners systematically inform about their concern regarding the high prevalence of boys’ sexual abuse even if it’s underreported.
- Conflict and displacement brings instability, and might redefine gender roles in conflict affected populations, IDPs and host communities, which can lead to further breakdowns in community support, systems and protection mechanisms, availability and access to services. Conflicts can influence gender roles, such as in exacerbating the feeling of “masculinity”, for males, which then might concretely lead to violent acts targeting members of the family – especially females and children. In addition, domestic violence sometimes becomes a way to cope or relate to, putting women, boys and girls at more risk in experiencing GBV either in the community or from the family.
- Greater radicalization or role of non-state groups could worsen GBV situations for women and girls, and limit activities seeking to address GBV.
- In some conservative communities, women cannot venture outside their homes to seek basic services without wearing appropriate clothing. In conflict situations, many Yemeni families have to flee fighting, sometimes in the middle of the night, with little or no belongings. Without access to culturally appropriate clothing or female hygiene items, women and girls are compelled to stay at home. Sometimes, they even remain invisible to humanitarian actors and miss being targeted with aid assistance.
- The migrant and refugee population is overwhelmingly male. Females tend to comprise 20% of the population. Even if girls only represent 1.8% of the migrant and refugee population, an estimated number is 3,500 girls in the first half of 2014 (2014 YHRP Mid-Year Review).
- The exact number of arriving refugees and migrants is unknown because they enter at illegal border crossing points. There are allegations of thousands of females who arrive along Yemen’s coasts and then “disappear” never to be heard from again. It’s unclear if the situations in which these females end up are harmful and dangerous.
- Between January and April 2014 72% of women and 54% of men migrants reported some form of abuse from smugglers or security men (IOM, 2014). Women reportedly take birth control before boarding boats to Yemen due to widespread reports of constant rape during the journey. A smaller group of men report sexual abuse.
- Most migrants and refugees arrive on the coast or at the borders wearing old or torn clothing. They are in need of clothing that is culturally appropriate and female hygiene items.
- Schools provide children, especially girls, protection from harm. Children who are out of school are generally more likely to be recruited by armed groups or tempted into organized crime (boys) or become victims of early marriage (girls). Both boys and girls attending school are less likely to be sexually or economically exploited.
- Out-of-school rates are higher among girls. They represent 63% of school dropout children (HNO, 2014). They are the first to be withdrawn from school to save money or be engaged in early marriages. Gender roles ( for example fetching water in rural areas) and a general lack of appreciation for girls’ education explain their lower attendance rates. Girls also need more privacy in schools (latrines, etc.). In rural areas, if a school is under a tree, this will often create a barrier for girls’ enrolment.
- Control of ultra-religious groups over government institutions could complicate access to schools in some regions, especially for girls.
- Men and boys are more likely to be affected by mine/UXO/ERW incidents. The proportion of mine/UXO victims examined at medical level during January to September 2014 are 81% men, 10% boys, 6% women and 3% girls (UNPD, 2014).
- Recent rounds of conflicts have affected populations accros genders and ages. Agricultural and non-agricultural assets were lost, destroyed or degraded during conflict or displacement,causing extensive damages to livelihoods and high unemployment rates. In Yemen, rural women provide casual daily labour in agricultural fields, rear livestock, and participate in livelihoods activities from with their home, in addition to caring for the children, doing chores, and managing the household. Women have a great capacity to contribute towards a food secure and resilient household and community.
- Women are more likely to struggle with livelihood issues due to a lack of mobility, decision making power and lack of access and control over resources. There is an estimation that female-headed households have a significant lower monthly income. Partners in Hajja and Houdeida have reported a monthly income average of YER 18,826 YER in female-headed households, compared with YER 29,280 in male‑headed households. This means that children are often forced to work instead of attending school in order to contribute to their household's income, hindering their school attendance.
- For young women, the lack of viable alternatives is used to further justify and entrench traditional gender roles and practices such as early marriage. Male youths therefore are often left without any choice other than joining anti‑social elements or migration. Consequently, there is a high possibility that they are recruited by non-state actors or get involved in cross border smuggling and criminal activities.
- Men are culturally more involved in community committees, including peace building/conflict transformation ones. Women and youths are more often left out, or when they are present, they don’t participate in a meaningful way. But all of them can bring a new perspective to conflict prevention and resolution and contribute actively to greater social cohesion and local development in their communities.
 Gender-Gap Index: see World Economic Forum, Gender Gap Index 2014.
 Gender Inequality Index: see UNDP Human Development Report 2014.