Education for Yemeni women still rare luxury

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Article Summary
Female Yemeni students face pressure to abandon their studies and assume "traditional" roles in society.

Leila, 22, returned to the kitchen after a few days of rest from house chores. She had university exams. The Sanaa University student laughed when asked, "Where do Yemeni girls spend their summer?" She said, "You are in Yemen!"

Several girls told Al-Hayat that summer vacation and holidays represent a major concern — a threat to the pursuit of their studies, especially with all the weddings taking place during this period.

The truth is, there is no summer in Yemen, for either men or women. It is simply a vacation. The social and cultural concept of summer does not exist due to the country’s geographical and climate conditions, in addition to the level of social and economic development. Rainfall is the main sign of the advent of summer, but there is not much difference between the seasons when it comes to climate. Seasons in Yemen are said to be simultaneous. Summer in Sanaa seems more like spring and winter, while in coastal areas it seems like a real summer in a way that differs from other Arab countries.

Despite the natural and climatic features of Yemen, the concept of summer and enjoying summer vacation is nonexistent in Yemeni society. A bourgeois class never emerged to impose its culture on both behavioral and structural levels of tourism.

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Even the wealthy who take vacations outside the country only do it to show off, rather than truly enjoying the vacation. Salwa, 20, said she traveled with her family to Egypt and Morocco, but rarely had any fun. Being with her parents and siblings made her feel as if she were still at home in Sanaa. The only fun she ever had was during the first couple of visits, since she was introduced to new cities and countries. Families who wish and are able to travel are a minority since many are burdened by poverty, unemployment and a decline in living standards.

Salwa said that leaving the country was the main reason for the family's summer travel, not the pursuit of entertainment. She said, “We have wonderful places in Yemen that we could enjoy during the summer vacation, like Socotra Archipelago or Karaman Island.” Despite all this, Salwa is luckier than the millions of Yemeni girls who face tougher circumstances, which make talk of summer seem like “luxury and empty words.”

Leila knows that Yemeni girls' circumstances do not allow them to take advantage of the summer vacation to enroll in a language or a computer course, let alone travel and have fun. She said, “I might be lucky since I will be spending my vacation doing chores, watching TV and reading. Village girls spend their vacation, and even school days, bringing water, farming and cooking.”

According to other Yemeni girls who spoke to Al-Hayat, summer vacation and other holidays are a threat to their studies. Fatima, 25, noted that the number of weddings during summer vacation and religious holidays triggered her mother’s heartbreak over her single daughter, wherein she pressured her daughter into marriage. The Sanaa University student said, “During the past holiday, three girls from our neighborhood got married. My mother kept nagging and telling me ‘your friends are getting married and all you do is go back and forth to university.’”

A recent field study showed a persistence in the traditional view of women only getting married and staying at home. Student Najib Abu Srour conducted a study of 300 families in the center of Taiz province and its countryside. In both the center and the countryside, residents still believe that women are supposed to stay at home to serve their husbands and families because "education delayed their marriage."

The study, carried out as part of an effort to earn a master's degree at Aden University, revealed that the social upbringing in both the center and the countryside prepares girls to become housewives who conform to the roles laid out for them by the family. UNICEF is currently founding a joint program with the Ministry of Education in Yemen to encourage village girls to attend school and continue their education.

Summer in Yemen was, and probably still is, a season of war, poverty and social backwardness, like all other seasons. The harsh memories of the civil war of the summer of 1994 and its aftermath are still vivid and always will be, especially as chances of change that started with the Arab Spring begin to fade.

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Found in: yemen youth, women, universities, marriage, education
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