Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Job First

Photo via Oxfam

If you are a Yemeni women living in Sana'a or Aden, by the time you finish high school, half of your female classmates are married or have plans to marry. If you are a Yemeni women from a rural area, then the odds are you are not going to school. The poorer your family is and the more siblings you have, the more likely that you will be one of those girls that has a child by the age of 13. The girls that make it into university are fortunate, but many are preoccupied searching for a husband, not necessarily because they want one but rather because they want to fit the societal expectation. I read an article once that stated that girls who are not married by the age of 27 are considered spinsters in Yemen (and I think they were being generous). Some countries in the region such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE are launching campaigns against spinsterhood, such as "Say Yes to Marriage". In Yemen, there is no need for such campaign because by the age of 21, odds are a girl is married and with a couple children. 

While Yemeni society continues to obsess about marriage, the country continues its downward economic spiral. A recent report concluded that early marriage is a huge obstacle in the path of development. A political sociology professor at Sana'a University, Dr. Abdulbaqi Shamsan, recently told Yemen Times that Yemen's demographics are changing; 70% of the population is young and about 50% of it is female. When women marry young, they retire to their homes  leaving the country depleted from a much needed workforce. Moreover, these young brides are increasing the country's poverty rates (more than 50% already below poverty line) and often suffer from illnesses and malnutrition .  Reem Al-Najar, director of The Marriage and Safe Pregnancy Project in the Yemen's Women Union (YWU), shared with the newspaper that YWU will be launching a campaign to educate the public about the harms of child marriages. 


Unfortunately, awareness campaigns can only take you so far. What Yemeni women need are opportunities. The economic outlook for the upcoming period is extremely bleak. Many men will have to accept the idea of their wives working if it means that their quality of life would improve. With high unemployment rates, it is hard for uneducated women to compete with men in the market, especially since most of the female working force is not paid. The transitional government will provide more economic opportunities for the population especially if the port of Aden is revived.  Perhaps the next campaign should say "Work First, Marry later". Women need to know about their rights as workers and must demand equal pay for the work they do. To those ladies who are looking for a husband, who knows perhaps a husband will find you because economically, as a couple, you are a lot more likely to live better.




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