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Help for Yemeni School Girls
Yemen was once known as "Felix Arabia" - Happy Arabia - by the Romans due to its thriving incense trade, but the once wealthy country is now among the poorest in the world. Since the 70's, when Saudi Arabian Wahabi extremists were given free rein to "Islamicize" the educational system in Yemen in an attempt to stave off growing communist influence within the country, Yemen has also become a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorist organizations.
As it has in other countries around the world, the combination of widespread poverty, misogynistic local traditions, and extremist religious doctrine has led to a dramatic decline in the condition of Yemeni women over the last 40 years. For the last few years, Yemen has ranked dead last in the annual Global Gender Gap Index, behind even Afghanistan. 52% of girls attend primary school and just 35% of girls attend secondary school, the lowest rate in the Arab world.
The rates are even lower in rural areas, where child marriages are also more prevalent. An estimated one in four girls in Yemen will be married by the age of 15. Girls are commonly married as young as 8 years old, often as second or third brides for much older men.
Most child brides are taken out of school (if they ever attended in the first place) and expected to concentrate on wifely duties, including bearing children. Girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth and significantly more likely to experience other serious complications such as vesicovaginal fistulas, which are caused by prolonged obstructed labor and cause urine to flow continuously into the vagina.
The situation in Yemen is exacerbated by the lack of access to health care. Only 20-30% of women are able to give birth with the help of trained medical personnel. Child brides are also more likely than adult women to give birth to weak or unhealthy infants, to experience domestic violence or other abuse, to contract STDs from their husbands, and more.
A number of recent cases have captured the attention
of the world press, including Nujood Ali, a 10 year old who
escaped her husband after being raped and beaten and successfully sued
for divorce, Fawziya Abdullah Youssef, a 12 year old who died
after three days laboring to give birth to a stillborn baby, Elham
Assi, a 13 year old who bled to death after being tied down and
raped by her husband, and Hind, a 13 or 14 year old girl who was chained up and sexually abused by her uncle and cousins as punishment for fleeing her abusive 70 year old husband.
Read Nujood Ali's Inspiring Story
As a result of the attention, a law was passed in 2009 raising the minimum age of marriage to 17. Unfortunately, it was repealed by conservative law makers who called it "un-Islamic" and sent back to committee for review.
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof suggests that a law of this sort, though helpful, is at best a starting point and that appealing to the self interest of families may be a more effective long-term tactic. In Pakistan, for example, where a similar situation is found in many poor rural regions, child marriage is becoming less accepted due to economic pressures. Educated girls fetch higher bride prices for their parents, and offer better financial prospects for their husband and children's future well-being. As a result, there is growing pressure in some regions of Pakistan to dely marriage until after high school or college graduation.
Here are a few organizations working to expand girls' educational opportunities in Yemen:
YERO strives to fight poverty by helping poor and marginalized children, including street children, receive educations. Founded in 2003 and based in Sana'a, Yemen, YERO operates a school serving 250 students. It also offers literacy training for older students, homework assistance, skills training, and more. The school is funded by donations from sponsors - $250 enables a child to attend school for one year.
YLDF, formerly the Girls World Communication Center, offers English, computer, and business classes, leadership training, and other opportunities at two education centers in San'a for young women and men from ages 8-30.
Before donating to any non-profit organization, it is a good idea to visit websites such as Charity Navigator in order to ensure the continued reputability and good standing of the organization.
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