Geography Compass

Women and Education – Yemen

By Michelle Brooks
Yemeni women hold up a poster portraying a child bride during a sit-in, to show support for a child marriage ban, outside the parliament in Sanaa,  the capital, on Tuesday (Abdullah/Reuters).

On the 11th October 2010 a UNICEF press release highlighted concerns over education of children in Yemen. In many regions the majority of school-age children are not in education due to the continuing conflict between  the government and rebel forces.  A joint campaign between UNICEF and the government aims to achieve Millenium Development Goals that have a target of bringing all children into education by 2015. Needless to say progress has fallen drastically behind schedule and UNICEF is calling for all development partners to accelerate their efforts towards education and immunisation for women and children in Yemen. The problems faced by women and children overlap in Yemen for many reasons including that of early marriages which are a major obstacle to providing education for young girls (see article by Rachel Cooke for the Guardian). This in turn leads to loss of opportunities for work and autonomy,  hence it is a significant cause of poverty and distress among women. However, despite growing conservatism and difficulties in the public sphere localised women’s NGOs continue to work hard to support education for women and children (read about the work of Rising Voices /video interview  with Ghadia Al Absi) .

In the wake of today’s revelations of a package bomb orgininating in Yemen and bound for the U.S. it is perhaps useful to remember the linkages between poverty and terrorism and indeed poverty and religiosity in attempting to understand the trajectory of this event.  The linkages between poverty, civil discontent and terrorism have been discussed frequently in the academy (Barros et al 2008). Yemen is in this light a textbook case. Ranking 151st out of 177 countries in the Human Development Index of the UN, an index measuring such things as infant mortality and life expectancy:  it can be seen that Yemen has one of the lowest HDIs in the world and indeed is the poorest of all the Arab nations. This is only exacerbated by dwindling natural energy resources, an internal war and an education system that has all but collapsed.

Writing in the UNICEF press release above, Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Representative in Yemen highlights the crucial role of education in any peace-building initiative.  With this in mind today is perhaps a timely opportunity to notice and discuss equilaterally, any attempts to show women of Yemen who have chosen to be in education as aligned with those against peace.  However, it may be crude and mechanistic of me to view recent revelations in the news-media as only damaging to Yemeni women in education. In fact this may be about diffusing a western discourse of commenting on oppression of women in  countries such as Yemen. An agenda seeking to damage and undermine support for them from the west. In time, much time, no doubt the course and origins of this cruel attempt on the lives of innocents will be revealed. However, in the meantime the war goes on and though it is a process through which poverty touches all, it is important to note that in Yemen, the face of poverty is undoubtedly female.

worldRead article by Lloyd-Evans for Geography Compass

worldWatch video interview with Ghadia Al Absi

worldRead UNICEF press release

worldRead article by Rachel Cooke (2008)

worldRead Barros et al (2008)


  1. It is really important to bring / raise awareness of issues such as child marriage which by it’s very nature is non consensual. Enjoyed the piece. More please!

  2. You cannot separate fights for self determination/ anti-imperialism in the world economy from acts of ‘terror’, which inevitably responding to voicelessness, and perceived terror from the infrastructure of the world economy and it’s flows. Oppression and Poverty breed challenges to the status quo, both leftist, rightist and fundamentalist. And when these challenges are not heard, or warranted any response of economic or political empowerment, any means necessary is used.

  3. Thanks Eddie,
    The project in Yemen is a great way to expand dialogue and increase understanding, I look forward to reading more of the women’s blogs please pass on my regards.

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