Displaced in Yemen: Stories of Hardship and Hope | Wilson Center

Displaced in Yemen: Stories of Hardship and Hope

My name is Warda (Rose in Arabic) and I am a community activist in Yemen. I began my work with many local institutions in Aden in 2011 first as a volunteer and later on as an executive director of the Fikr Foundation for Development. After gaining sufficient experience in the field and driven by a sense of responsibility towards my community particularly its women members, I set up my own organization, Yad Bi Yad (Hand-in-Hand) for Development in 2015. Our work aims to empower women and youth, promote a culture of coexistence and the spirit of peace in the community, support marginalized communities in our society and uphold women's issues in community development.

I strongly believe in the work I do, particularly in empowering women in the community as the largest marginalized group in Yemeni society and in the government. We, in Yemen, still live in a male-dominated society that does not believe women can be strong partners in decision-making or in peacemaking or that, she can have a central role in society akin to her Yemeni brother.

During the war in Aden, I lived with my family but I was not allowed to leave the house by my mother. My insistence on getting back out to the field, my sense of responsibility and faith in my abilities enabled me to convince my mother to allow me to continue my community work. I went out into the community at the height of the war and joined the Aoun Coalition, which has provided humanitarian assistance to many families. Our work focused primarily on families headed by women such as the widowed or divorced as well as the families whose male-head was absent due to the war. My experience working in Aden in the midst of the war increased my determination to serve the community, especially in the absence of the state and of the international community.

After the liberation of Aden in the summer of 2015, my Yad bi Yad team and I went to the field to work on the economic empowerment of women, as the primary victims of the war. We started focusing more and more on the internally displaced families, particularly women who were seeking refuge in Aden after liberation from the Houthis. I encountered a painful reality with the internally displaced. My team and I first worked on surveying all the displaced families in my community and organizing all the information into databases in order to better serve them. I shared these databases with UNHCR, IOM and other international organizations in order to ensure they get the services they need, especially shelter. UNHCR estimates the number of internally displaced across Yemen to be near 3 million people. The vast majority of displaced families I worked with were without a head of household. In most cases, fathers and brothers either left to fight or stayed behind in their own governorates.

I have so many stories to tell, especially about the displaced women I encountered and helped. One widow’s story comes to mind. She is from the province of Taiz and fled along with her three daughters to the Green City where they found refuge in a door-less, windowless house. They lived without electricity or running water. The mother, forced to leave her children alone for hours to find food, married off her eldest the 16-year-old daughter to a 40-year-old man who frequented their house. Child marriage in Yemen has been on the rise since the war began, with two thirds of girls getting married before the age of 18, according to UNICEF. Akin to this jobless mother, many families marry off their daughters out of economic destitution. A UNICEF report approximates that half of Yemeni households are now living with less than $2/day making a married daughter “one less mouth to feed.” The fate of this young bride, however, reveals the continued hardships young girls face in this war. I learned recently that this 40 year old husband died, making this young woman a widow; with a child but without work or education.

Other displaced women I have met continuously suffer sexual harassment at the hands of men in their host communities. I worked with many of them to try to change their predicament. One of these women is Feryal Al Nashiri from the province of Taiz. Faeryal gives me hope as an example of a strong woman who challenged the harsh conditions of displacement. Feryal started working with my NGO, Yad Bi Yad, and today she has returned to Taiz and became Director of our organization’s branch there where we are implementing an economic empowerment program for women.

Another woman I worked with closely, we shall refer to here as M.B., fled to Aden from Hodeidah. Married at a young age, she suffered harassment and abuse by her husband. I met her through my fieldwork and got to know her and her painful story. After her husband beat her in public, I accompanied her to the police station and with the help of a lawyer friend; she was able to get a divorce. Since then, M.B. has become one of the most active members of Yad Bi Yad; working with displaced children on strengthening their reading and writing skills.

I have so many more stories to tell about the displaced families I have encountered and the obstacles I overcame working in my community. However, I will stop here and suffice it to say I have the determination and commitment to continue my work and support my community; especially the women who are the number one victims of this war. I also call on the international community and especially the United States to support our work and help these resilient women because they are today’s peacemakers; they are the makers of the future, and the shapers of future generations that will build our nation