After a period of continued struggle and oppression, there comes a time when enough is enough. The mind, body, and spirit simply will not be capable of taking any more pain. For Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, this moment came on the 17th of December 2010. Bouazizi doused himself with a flammable petroleum liquid, lit a match and set himself on fire. He had been pushed to this point of desperation by the seizing of his vegetable stand by police because he did not have in his possession a valid permit. This sparked the Tunisian Revolution but more importantly, it led to the Arab Spring, a series of pro-democracy uprisings across the Middle East.
One of the countries to be directly affected by this revolution was Yemen. Yemen is one of the most poverty-stricken Arab countries in the world. In anticipation of the rolling Arab Spring protests, Yemen seemed to be ahead of the curve in terms of change. The president at that time was Ali Abdullah Saleh who was an authoritarian leader who had been in charge of the country for almost thirty years. With the Arab Spring almost at their doorstep, Yemen as a country decided to have a political transition. This was only to be the source of their problems.
Long-time President Ali Abdullah Saleh was removed and replaced by his deputy, Abrabbuh Mansour Hadi. This was a peaceful transition that was meant to create a sense of peace and stability in Yemen. All is well that ends well, so they thought. This was simply not the case for Yemen and its leader, Hadi. He faced a number of problems that included jihadist attacks, a separatist movement in the south of the country, the continued loyalty of security personnel to former leader Saleh as well as the corruption, unemployment and food insecurity of the average person on the ground. Perception means a lot in politics and all the aforementioned factors made Hadi look like an indecisive, weak leader. This created ripe conditions for ambitious opportunists.
The Houthi movement took advantage of the new president’s apparent weakness. The Houthi is a movement formerly known as Ansar Allah. This movement champions Yemen’s Zaidi Shia, which is a Muslim minority in the country. The Houthis took control of the northern areas of the country including the province of Saada and other neighbouring areas. The transition from Saleh to Hadi left many ordinary Yemenis disillusioned, so they joined the Houthis in their rebellion. This also included Sunni Muslims. Sunni and Shia Muslims generally do not get along. In late 2014, early 2015 the rebels gradually took over the capital Sana. The Houthis and security forces loyal to Saleh saw this as a sign that they could take over the entire country. This forced President Hadi to flee the country.
Saudi Arabia was alarmed by the rise of a group they believed had military backing from regional Shia power, Iran. Saudi Arabia and eight other mostly Sunni Arab states in the region began air campaigns against the Houthis. At the beginning of this campaign, Saudi Arabia and the other Arab states believed that it would only last a few weeks. This was in 2015, today in 2020 the conflict continues. The civil war is still raging with complicated relationships existing between the parties involved in the war. The most unfortunate part of all this is the fact that a country has been destroyed along with the lives and livelihood of its people. At the moment it is not known exactly how many people have been killed during the conflict. It is estimated that about 100 000 people have been killed in the conflict, this includes 12 000 civilians. The conflict has brought normal life to a stop so activities such as agriculture and trade do not function as they used to, in most instances, they have actually ground to a halt. This means that the population of Yemen are not getting food as they should be. Food security is close to non-existent in the country. It is estimated that 85 000 people have died from famine. It is said by the UN that more than 24 million people in Yemen are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. This includes more than 12 million children. It is estimated that around 2 million children under 5 years of age are suffering from malnutrition and require immediate treatment.
The sudden appearance of Covid-19 on the world stage added salt to an open wound. The country has been bombed and has very poor sanitation and provision of water. This has created a dire situation in an emergency. The damage to hospitals has led to their closure, disrupting health services amongst other things.
The situation in Yemen found its genesis within the country. But sooner rather than later, a myriad of parties became involved in the conflict. This includes outside parties such as Saudi Arabia. More significantly one clearly sees the hand of the Western powers, the United States of America, and the United Kingdom providing weapons that are being used in the conflict. This is a repetition of these superpowers meddling and involving themselves in the issues of sovereign territory. Most times these countries see themselves as protectors of democracy and innocent people too but in the end, they just add to the misery, chaos, and death in these countries. It should also be highlighted that countries such as the United States of America profit from these conflicts by selling weapons and military equipment.
The situation in Yemen is dire, it deserves more of the world’s attention. The lack of widespread media coverage on the conflict further highlights that some regions, countries, and people are not as valued as others. This is unbecoming in the year 2020. As human beings, we need to do more to draw attention to the Yemeni people’s plight.
It is also important to highlight that as with every war, the females and children are bearing the brunt of the war. The UN estimates that 76% of the internally displaced persons are women and children and an estimated 3 million girls are at risk of gender based violence. 21% of households are now headed by girls below the age of 18 years. Women are now having to carry the double burden of being providers of their homes, amongst other roles played by men, as well as play their roles of primary caregivers in families. This is because most men have either been killed, injured or disappeared.
Whilst women are most heavily impacted by the war, they are under represented in politics, in 2013 only 0.7% of Member of the Yemeni Parliament were women. Yemen has been ranked last in the World Economic Forum\s Global Gender Gap Index for 13 consecutive years. Yemen has always been a deeply patriarchal society with very strictly defined gender roles and obtuse gender inequality. Whilst the protracted war and the need for women to now play dual roles that step outside of the rigidly defined gender roles has given women insight into what life could be if the heavy hood of patriarchy were to be lifted, and could be an opportunity for equalising gender inequality; the other side of it is that men have become more violent “literature has shown that in societies with rigid gender norms, men feel emasculated and threatened when they experience a shift in gender roles, which can lead to an increase in intimate partner violence.”