A famous Yemeni poet once described Sana’a City as “a beauty, loved by tuberculosis and scabies”. This description always comes to mind when I see or hear about the immense injustice girls and women are facing daily in Yemen. Imagining them as pure beautiful souls held captive by the power of deadly tuberculosis and scabies.
The diseases have held so many different faces and names through the years, and can be found everywhere - at homes, schools, colleges, beaches, streets, and hospitals.
I will not share statistics and details of studies that have proven time and again the prevalence of gender apartheid happening daily in my country. Plenty can be found. I would rather tell you a short story about my niece. A girl named Noor. The name Noor means light, and this 14 year old girl has eyes and soul as bright as the sun. She loves to skate, but the only skating arena in Sana’a has been closed since the beginning of the war. It opened recently and she was thrilled that finally she was able to go back to one of her many lost hobbies. She took her skates and off she went, promising to send me a picture so I can see her.
Three hours later I received a picture from my niece showing five boys skating in the arena. “Why didn't you skate?” I asked. “Well, I was mistaken, they opened it only for boys”, she responded. In that moment I realized that the tuberculosis and scabies currently engulfing our country had also taken over parks; places that are built to bring joy and happiness. Now they bring only disappointment and heartbreak to young girls in my country.
In the middle of all this destruction, blood, injustice and the loss of basic needs like food, water, and safety, spending joyful time in a park may seem like an unnecessary luxury. But for me, a photo showing boys being able to skate, while girls have to watch from afar, is as heartbreaking as the surrounding destruction.
Women and girls in Yemen for years have been told what to wear, how to speak, walk, and laugh. Somehow we managed to tolerate it; it didn’t seem too bad. But in the past eight years the deterioration increased drastically and an undeniable gender apartheid system set in. Recent legislative changes dedicated educational, medical and social resources to be served for the benefit of men. Only in case of surplus – which rarely happens – do women and girls get access.
The some poet in the same people mentioned previously also wrote: “and from the grief of her eyes, a new Yemen is being formed like a childhood dream, distant but approaching”.
I try to keep this line in mind as circumstances get worse and worse around us. There are so many powerful women who never bow down to the oppression and always do the best they can to find a cure for the various forms and approaches the ever-present tuberculosis and scabies takes. No matter how long the journey will take. The light within all those pure beautiful souls will find its way at the end.
Written By Arwa Aleryani
Arwa Aleryani is a Yemeni human rights advocate. Coming from a background in psychology and social studies, she shifted her focus to defending women's and children's rights in society. With extensive experience gained over 8 years in Yemen and continued work with the Peace Track Initiative team, she's committed to making a difference. She is passionate about writing, sports, arts, and travel, she seizes each day to learn something new.