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Being a girl in Yemen: Jehan and Hamamah’s story

09 May 2019


Together with the UN and other partners, OCHA is co-hosting an international pledging conference to strengthen efforts to combat sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in humanitarian crises. Hosted by Norway, the conference also aims to raise much needed funding to ensure that humanitarian partners are equipped to provide the necessary protection to not just assist survivors of violence, but also prevent such acts through ad hoc interventions. The conference will take place in Oslo on 23-24 May.

Jehan's story

Jehan, 17, fled her hometown of Marib for the Khamir IDP settlement at the beginning of the war in 2015. She lost her eyesight in the right eye after her husband beat and abused her before abandoning her. She’s now living with other family members in a dilapidated shelter. Credit: OCHA/G. Clarke

In Yemen, stories like Jehan’s are common. With rapidly diminishing income opportunities, negative coping strategies, including child marriages, have become more prominent. Between 2017 and 2018, child marriage rates increased threefold for girls under 18 and humanitarian partners reported a disturbing increase in GBV incidents.

Protracted displacement remains a dangerous trigger. As people are forced to live in crowded, unsanitary conditions for long periods of time, families often choose to marry off their younger daughters in the hope to offer them a better life.

Women and girls have been suffering disproportionately from GBV, poverty and violations of basic rights even before the conflict. But after four years of war and an economy in constant decline, they are facing even more severe risks and vulnerabilities.

In 2018, services provided by humanitarian partners to GBV survivors increased by 70 per cent compared to the previous year in 17 of Yemen’s 22 governorates, which reflects both the increased need and the wider geographical coverage. According to UNFPA, of all reported GBV incidents in 2018, 46 per cent were physical assault, 22 per cent psychological abuse, 17 per cent denial of resources, 11 per cent child marriage, 3 per cent sexual abuse, and 1 per cent rape.

“The position of women and girls in Yemen is particularly parlous", UN Humanitarian Chief Mark Lowcock said last February at the Yemen Pledging Conference. " The women and girls of Yemen are among those suffering, they are among the victims of this crisis, but they are also part of the solution. (...) One of the things we are doing in the Humanitarian Response Plan this year is designing our intervention in such a way that women and girls can play their part as the solution." This year, humanitarian partners will require $153 million to meet the specific protection needs of 4.8 million people, including women and girls.

Hamamah's story

Hamamah, 15, the day after giving birth to a stillborn baby in the shack where she lives with her family in Al Farisi IDP settlement, in Aden. Her family had fled Taiz during fighting in 2017 and have made Aden there home ever since. Last year, Hamamah she was married to 22 year old Abdullah. She was just 14. Credit: OCHA/G. Clarke

For displaced women and girls - who constitute 50 per cent of all internally displaced in Yemen - the trends are alarming as they tend to suffer most from lack of privacy, threats to safety and limited access to basic services – especially in overcrowded collective centres. The ability of displaced women and girls to reach health, nutrition and other services remains a challenge due to distance and lack of financial means to afford transportation. Displaced girls are more likely to lose access to school as families with limited resources de-prioritize their right to education.

These challenges are even more daunting for women or girls who suddenly find themselves responsible for providing for their families but have been deprived of basic education or vocational training that would prepare them for the labor market. Assessments indicate that 21 per cent of female-headed households are under the age of 18.

Among the most critical needs that humanitarian partners are aiming to address in 2019 are timely follow-up and referral, medical assistance, psychosocial support, emergency shelter and legal assistance. In addition, training, technical guidance and support are needed to prevent and mitigate GBV risks.

What is Gender-Based Violence?

Gender-Based Violence (GBV), sometimes also referred to as Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) is any harmful act of sexual, physical, psychological, mental, and emotional abuse that is perpetrated against a person’s will and that is based on socially ascribed (i.e. gender) differences between males and females.

The numbers are shocking. An estimated one in three women worldwide will experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime. Men and boys are often targeted as well.

In conflict, sexual and gender-based violence increases, often dramatically. Women’s bodies become battlegrounds, with rape used as a tactic of war and terror to humiliate, dominate or disrupt social ties and ethnic identity. Support networks and local services break down, and facilities are damaged and destroyed, living SGBV survivors to fend for themselves.

The impact of SGBV is devastating for survivors and their communities. Physical injuries, unwanted pregnancies, fistulae, sexually transmitted infections including HIV and death are among the most likely consequences of such senseless violence. Survivors often face social rejection that increases their vulnerability to further abuse and exploitation.