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Help for Yemeni School Girls

Updated on July 16, 2011

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:

One of YERO's classrooms
One of YERO's classrooms

Yemeni Education and Relief Organization (YERO)

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.

Youth Leadership and Development Foundation (YLDF)

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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    • noorin profile image

      noorin 7 years ago from Canada

      Thank you very much kerryg, I appreciate the tweak =) By the way ur hubs are great to read, keep up the great work =)

    • kerryg profile image

      kerryg 7 years ago from USA

      Congratulations on your scholarships, noorin, and on having such a wonderful and supportive family! I wish you the best of luck in your studies.

      In response to your comment, I tweaked the wording a little in an attempt to make it more clear that I hold Islamic fundamentalists, not Islam itself, responsible for the deterioration in women's rights. I am not a Muslima myself, but I am married to a Muslim man, and I know how frustrated he gets at seeing his religion corrupted by fundamentalist forces, many of whom have a very poor understanding of the very religion they claim to speak for! I feel the same about Christian fundamentalism. It seems wherever religious extremism rears its ugly head, the rights of women suffer, often in ways that go directly contrary to the true teachings of the religion itself. :(

    • noorin profile image

      noorin 7 years ago from Canada

      Hey kerryg, I am a Yemeni girl and your hub caught my interest. Everything you wrote about doesn't shock me because I was raised in Yemen. But I have to say from a personal experience that Islam -my religion- has protected me from all these nonsense traditions. Its normal for girls ages 16-18 to get like a dozen proposals and my religion as well as my beloved family gave me the right to simply say 'No' and concentrate on my priorities. When I turned 18, I received 3 scholarships to either study abroad or in Yemen. Out of concern, relatives wanted to deprive me travelling, once again religion and my beloved family were the rulers in such a decision. You seem like a very open minded individual and ur writing is very informative, but I would really appreciate if you could do more research on women in Islam because unfortunately countries like Yemen have corrupted this beautiful religion. I love my country but I am not fond with some of its traditions. And it hurts to see poverty and traditions speaking in the name of Islam. The girl in the link was abused mainly because of 2 factors: 1- poverty, the 35 year old man bribed the father with money and promised not to touch the girl for 4 years 2- Ignorance. I am not sure what is the minimum age Islamically but I am 100% sure that the wife's approval is a primary factor for the marriage to be legal which wasn't the case in any of the examples. I also know that a wife has the right of divorce. I will be visiting Yemen in 2 weeks and u ll be seeing some really interesting hubs from there so feel free to follow me. And reddo1027, im sure u know that some of the news sources are either lacking or manipulating, yemen's reaction towards that incident wasn't covered properly. Hopefully i will be writing hubs on Yemen's public point of view. For now, feel free to check my personal opinions on females by checking some of hubs


    • reddog1027 profile image

      reddog1027 7 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Very good hub. We Americans are sometimes so disconnected from the rest of the world that we forget just how hard life is in other countries. But this ignorance often does us harm. Most poor countries place no value on their women and children. And most poor countries are the training grounds for terrorists, remember the foiled bomb plot at Christmas time. He was from Nigeria and trained in Yemen.

    • HealthyHanna profile image

      HealthyHanna 7 years ago from Utah

      These are the kinds of subjects that break my heart. Life is so tough for so many...and most hard on the girls. We must do something.

      I appreciate the disclaimer about donating to charity. Here again is a sad reality we face. We can not let it sour us for all causes. We must do our do diligence in giving.

    • valeriebelew profile image

      valeriebelew 7 years ago from Metro Atlanta, GA, USA

      This was well written, and made me angry. Who decides when the girl is ready for sexual intercourse????? Obviously not the girl, herself. Why do all major religions treat women as property? I don't think it was God's idea, but a method of keeping us under control. Good hub, even if it did tend to cause me to reject the idea of organized religion outright. I know all men, and all religious groups don't allow such standards, but its hard to argue for equality, to someone who sees abuse as a divine act. Thanks for writing this hub.

    • Peter Dickinson profile image

      Peter Dickinson 7 years ago from South East Asia

      Excellent article dealing with a sensitive subject. Thank you for bringing it to the attention of hubbers.

      Some years ago a member of my staff married a girl of eight. I understand however that as per his culture the relationship progressed no further till she had turned twelve. The world is very different once we leave our own comfort zone.

    • myownworld profile image

      myownworld 7 years ago from uk

      I just broke down reading this.... all those child brides....oh god, it's horrific to even think what they must have gone through! And I'm sure there are hundreds of other stories that never even reach the media! And who would have thought Yemeni women had it even worse than Afghani ones. Thank you for bringing this to our notice...

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      This is so interesting and an eye-opener. We don't hear anything about Yemen. Things like that should printed all over the frontpage of newspapers. Not what Posh is wearing or this hopping in that bed. I don't what people get out of all this brainless tuff. Can ever anyone imaging what these girls going through? I don't what is wrong with them, that they have to grind women right down into the dust. Thank you very much for writing this hub.