Qais Al-Shaddadi

Translated by: Tawfiq Al Mekhlafy

The difficulty of completing an education in Yemen is no different from living in peace, and the rural women are still struggling around in this country.

The difficulties of women obtaining their right to education do not stop at the cost affordability and the collapse of educational institutions due to the war, but to there are other challenges that some may not realise from the first moment.

“We walk 2.5 to 3 hours a day, as a daily routine to get to college. However, how some members of the community look at me is more challenging than that,” Etaq Al-Kohlani tells Hodaj.

Obstructing looks

Etaq, a twenty-years-old woman who lives in al-Jabzia sub-district in the southern countryside of Taiz governorate, walks a daily ten kilometres with her female classmates to the car park. From there, they travel a similar distance by car in order to reach the college; “the distance between our village and the college is about 20 km, we walk half the way, and then we complete the rest by car.” Etaq said.

The road passes with bumpy turns, but the fatigue of walking has less impact on these girls than the traditional view of some members of their community who criticize the idea of a girl walking so far to get a university education; they don't see it as necessary. "These are the proponents of the saying: A girl is for nothing more than her home and her husband. They cause us a lot of trouble when they constantly try to convince our parents that travelling that the long distance is a danger to us."

To counter those pressures, the girls coordinated their go to the college, along the bumpy road, in groups rather than walking alone. This has contributed to reducing some of such interference and criticism, and pacifying their families, according to Etaq.

The ceaselessness of this traditional view is causing psychological harm to girls. One of the people with that harmful, traditional view is Abdul Qadir Sharaf. As he puts it: "A girl can study until she learns how to read and write, but I do not agree with her studies at the university, or to be employed, because the woman's job is to take care of the house and raise children."

Family support

Etaq says: "At first, I faced strong opposition from my family and relatives, but I had decided not to give in to what would have put a limit on my aspiration. So, I focused on my goal and on convincing my father whose approval was enough for me to take on this challenge, and I was able to obtain that approval after many attempts.  As for the others, I don't care what they say; they have nothing to do with my decisions.

"My father was hesitant at first, under the influence of those negative attitudes from those around him and those close to him, especially since the college is really far away, but I continued my efforts to persuading him to escape becoming a prisoner at home and losing my dream and my future," Etaq adds.

Etaq's father says: "When Etaq told me that she wanted to study in college, I was hesitant for several reasons, including my financial difficulties, fear for her of the dangers of that long road, people's [negative] talks, and the [tough] distance. But, in the end, I found myself in her side; she is my daughter in the end.  She is smart and ambitious, and I certainly want her to do better, so I supported the idea of continuing her [higher] education, while I take care of the expenses and opponents from the close circle."

Etaq dreams of becoming a nurse. This is what pushes her to endure all these difficulties. She shares the same dream and challenges with her colleague Yasmine Abdullah, who says: "It is true that we get exhausted, and we go all that distance, and we often come back home at three in the afternoon, without lunch, but all this will end when we complete our education."

Most dangerous

UNICEF statistics, published in October 2017, indicate that 31% of girls in Yemen are out of education, and two out of three women are illiterate, which reveals the reality of the status of women in this country.

Education is a legitimate right for a Yemeni girl, as it is a right for a boy, but many have not been able to attain this right for various reasons.  The long distance and its ruggedness do not form the only challenge, says the young woman, Momina Muhammad, one of Etaq’s classmates in primary school: “When I was in the ninth grade, I aspired to complete my studies and become a doctor, in order to secure an income for me and my family, and to treat my little brother, who was suffering from fractures in the  blood [Hemolytic anemia] but fate took my brother, and circumstances and habits took away my future, so I was forced to marry my cousin and discontinue my education.”

Momina is one of the many girls who had to drop out if school, in addition to the Asrar whose marriage was not what disrupted her education. Rather, it was money. Asrar says: “It was difficult to complete my education, especially after the salaries and my father’s salary were stopped being paid by the government, which forced me to stop studying, because I was unable to provide for its expenses, as I needed, daily, at least three thousand Yemeni riyals, which is a lot of money.  It was difficult to afford it under the current circumstances."

UNICEF statistics indicate that "more than a million boys and girls are out of school, which means an increase in the illiteracy rate in Yemen."

"The rights of a girl are no different from the rights of a boy; a girl has the right to be educated, and we must encourage our daughters to continue their education," says Soud al-Sufi, a mother who supports girls' education.

"The [long] distance and the [potential] dangers of the road are not more dangerous than a girl's being left without an education," she added.

War and Girl Education

The war in Yemen has caused many girls to drop out of school, either because of displacement or the risks of movement in areas of engagement, or because of the economic situation and the increasingly difficult living conditions, and UNICEF statistics indicate that "more than a million boys and girls are out of school, which means an increase in the illiteracy rate in Yemen."

Professor of Sociology at Taiz University, Mahmoud Al-Bakari, describes some of these emerging difficulties by saying: “Living conditions and economic deterioration have forced people to return to agricultural work, and due to the lack of sufficient cash to hire workers to run the agricultural fields of many families, these tasks were entrusted to women and girls.  In general, this has increased the rate of illiteracy among girls.

He warns: "Illiteracy of mothers could be, tomorrow, one of the reasons negatively affecting girls' education, which will make the risk a long-term one, not just a temporarily challenge.”