Yemeni Women: Leading into the Future

March 16, 2023
UNDP Yemen / 2023

As the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Yemen is wrapping up a week of celebrating International Women’s Day (IWD) and Yemen’s women heroines, I would like to reiterate UNDP’s commitment to prioritizing women and placing them at the center of our programming and our messaging.

Over the years, we have seen some improvement for women in various areas across Yemen. For example, many of UNDP women beneficiaries have become pillars within their communities, decision makers with a seat at the table, and have worked to improve Yemen’s social fabric. But as Yemen still lingers at the bottom of both the Gender Inequality and the World Economic Forum Gender Gap indexes, and with the prolonged conflict and societal pressures, it is often difficult for women to thrive.

Currently in Yemen, women and girls’ access to education hovers at 35 per cent and only around 6 per cent have access to paid employment opportunities. Women also often have a limited voice and no presence at the proverbial decision-making table, making up only 4.1 per cent of managerial and decision-making positions in Yemen.

We must recognize that women often have a unique understanding of both family and community life that make them invaluable assets to lead critical transformational changes within their communities. And their leadership has proven to be essential to advancing gender justice and gender equality, and to furthering economic, social, and security progress for all.

To help shift the humanitarian and development trajectory in Yemen, women need a chance to help determine community priorities and needs – they need a seat at the table.

Moving the Needle

UNDP has long recognized the critical role women play in business, governance, peace, and security to advance gender justice and gender equality. Our projects depend on women working with their communities to help identify priority areas of support. This includes new, more innovative sectors such as renewable energy – one of Yemen’s most in-demand sectors – as well as climate change, livelihoods, peace, and security.

UNDP recognizes the importance of women to make a difference in their communities and beyond. To help them achieve this, among other important roles, we have provided women with capacity development to successfully own and operate their own businesses. We prioritized and encouraged the appointments of women in leadership roles in police stations in the south. We urged women’s active participation in Water User Associations to help manage vital community water resources. And we engaged women in the mine action response.  

But we do not only actively engage the women in empowerment activities, we also work closely with men and youth to help change the hearts and minds of all – and it is working. A male Yemeni beneficiary recently noted that “Women are the most affected by conflict and should be in the lead in Yemen’s peace efforts.” He added that “both men and women need each other’s support and that the entire community is based on this equation – the Gender Equality equation.”

Yemeni Women Trailblazers

UNDP has worked with many strong, powerful, and successful women across Yemen. All are equally valued and valuable and are heroines to us.

Here are some of their stories.  

Iman Hadi, a community leader and UNDP beneficiary, received seed grants to establish the first community woman-owned and operated microgrid. Iman and her team are making a difference in her community and surrounding area by providing them with much needed electricity. While presenting at COP 27 in Egypt, Iman poignantly stated that “we are all suffering from the same issues, especially the imminent risk of climate change. We must all do our part to take immediate action.”

Iman was selected as one of BBC’s 100 Most Influential Women for 2020. Additionally, UNDP’s business model for Iman’s project was awarded the prestigious global Ashden Award 2020 for humanitarian energy.

Another pioneer is Eqbal who has been selected as the Financial Manager of the first UNDP-supported community-based solar and wind mini-grid station in Taiz. With the energy crises and the collapse of the national grid, Eqbal will play a key role in ensuring affordable rates for energy for rural women in her community. She will also allocate station revenues to finance the implementation of activities targeting women's needs at the community level.

A young climate innovator, Amina – a UNDP-supported social entrepreneur – was selected to participate at the 16th UN Climate Change Conference of Youth (COY16). She introduced the concept of recycling materials into plastic bricks that can be used for reconstruction and rehabilitation work around Yemen. Amina used her opportunity on the global stage to highlight the importance of working together to achieve our common goals. “We are all in this together and we should ensure that Yemeni men are engaged to help us advocate in saving the earth.” She and her husband worked together to help raise recycling awareness in her community and beyond.

Building toward Sustainability

Building upon these successes, UNDP will continue to enhance women in leadership roles to alleviate and address women’s vulnerabilities. We will prepare girls and support women to lead the future of work, support their innovations to fight against climate change, and sign them up as peace ambassadors and champions to successfully co-lead the world toward a sustainable future.

As a woman from the region, I understand the difficulties Yemeni women face. Together with UNDP, I am committed to continuing to help reinvent opportunities for Yemeni women leaders that work within country. We will continue to help push the development wheel forward, building on Yemen’s long history of strong women leaders like the Queen of Sheba, among others.