A recent study has revealed an increase in violence against women and children resulting from the conflict in Yemen. Research by the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies shows women and girls in Yemen have been affected by rape, kidnapping and domestic violence, while boys face sexual violence and are forced to work.
Yemen’s nearly five-year conflict is having disastrous consequences on its civilian population, according to the recent study, “A Gendered Crisis: Understanding Experiences of Yemen’s War.”
The qualitative research involving some 90 focus group discussions across Yemen’s political and socioeconomic classes found that unemployment has undermined men’s traditional role as breadwinner, driving many to seek a salary by fighting on the front lines. Rising poverty has left parents unable to educate their children. The middle class has slipped into poverty and the poor into destitution.
One of the authors, Shams Shamsan of the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, says that the financial strain caused by the war has plunged the already impoverish nation at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula into a dire economic crisis making women, youth and children more vulnerable to exploitation and multiple forms of gender-based violence.
“Youth and kids are lured into sexual activity in exchange for money and sometimes materialistic things. Women report a lot of kidnapping and groping in the streets and they say there is a growing impunity towards predators who do that,” Shamsan said. “In the past, if a woman is harassed in the street, everybody would jump in to try to protect her, but now there is no such thing. People are usually scared.”
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Shamsan says that Yemeni families forbid doctors to report cases of rape due to the social stigma attached to it in their culture.
Rights group Amnesty International also said recently that Yemen’s negative gender stereotypes and patriarchal attitudes, a discriminatory legal system, and economic inequality have compounded women’s vulnerability to violence. Activists like Shamsan say that more needs to be done to protect children and women against the growing gender-based violence.
“We need to educate women and children on what is sexual violence. What does it mean when you get harassed,” Shamsan said. “Some kids get harassed and they don’t know they are being harassed. So, we need some sort of an awareness program to families and children and how to report. We have very little programs that work on psychosocial support. We need rehabilitation programs for those who experience sexual assault and sexual trauma.”
Shamsan says children and youth being sent to the frontlines also badly need psycho-social support and rehabilitation centers to help them integrate into society, otherwise they transfer their battlefield trauma into domestic violence.