Despite women gaining more higher education certificates than men (13% for women, 7.3% for men), they still face social, cultural, and political challenges to their working life ambitions and economic independence. Between 2013 and 2014, their numbers in the labor force did not exceed 10% for any age group.
The war changed social and economic conditions and imposed a new reality, opening the way for many women to use their skills and enter working life.
Yemeni women’s entry into the labor force was mostly through traditional work, such as sewing, but there are also a number of women who have taken up non-traditional roles. While many of them have faced significant pushback from their immediate circle and society at large, this photo essay shines a light on some trailblazers that can serve as a source for inspiration for other young girls to pursue not what society deems fit for them, but what they want to pursue.
The First Engineer
Anisa Al-Salami broke through into male-dominated electronic devices repair work in April 2020, early on during the COVID-19 outbreak. She was the first woman engineer to get such a job in Yemen.
Anisa was inspired by her engineer father’s passion for maintenance. He always dreamed of seeing one of his children become an engineer too. On a personal level, she had worries that taking electronic devices to a phone repair shop would mean the engineers could potentially share her photos or use them to blackmail her. Now, her presence in the market has made a difference in providing a private and secure service for girls and women in town.
For Anisa, it wasn’t easy to start such a job, as opportunities went to boys or men. Her first challenge was to find an engineer tutor to accept her as a student. The fee was very expensive, at 10,000 Yemeni Riyals a day.
Anisa did not entirely rely on the tutor, and instead she watched YouTube lessons. She enrolled at the Institute of Programming and Technology and because of her extraordinary capabilities, Anisa was ranked top among all her colleagues! She then worked for the Institute, for free, for four years where she excelled.
Other retailers consider her a foreign body in a ‘man’s sphere’.
This is apparent in the way they deal with her, selling her spares to carry out repairs at twice the market price which is a clear example of economic gender-based violence.
❝To be honest, work is great! I was apprehensive at its beginnings, where I had these thoughts of 'What would people think of me?', 'Would they take my services?!' Well, it's got its pros and cons, but all in all, the pros prevail!❞
Her project is more than running an ordinary repair shop and aims also to train girls interested in the field. To date she has taught 50 girls, of which only one received family permission.
Currently, Anisa is economically independent. She is highly ambitious about the future of expanding her business into several shops to employ more women engineers and empower them to provide quality services for society.
The Security Officer
Sahar bears a heavy responsibility as she works to maintain the security of women students at Taiz University. This requires her to go out on regular campus patrols, be firm with strangers, and ensure everyone’s safety.
Security jobs were exclusive to men in the north of Yemen before unification, and this has resulted in wider society's perceptions that women can’t hold security jobs. Despite these widespread ideas, Sahar is dedicated to performing her job well to maintain safety at the university campus.
Women feel more secure in the presence of a security person of their gender. However, if a security man is in charge, they are worried he may be a source of danger if he verbally or physically harasses them.
Coffee Shop Owner
Sahar Al-Qadasi opened and runs her coffee shop, Peru Café, in central Taiz, near the Chamber of Commerce since 2020. It is one of the few projects in the district that is working to break stereotyped perceptions about women’s labor participation.
Sahar works to make good relationships with her customers. As well as selling distinctive coffee, she provides a quiet and safe space for girls and women to meet and have a good time.
As Sahar constantly strives to provide new flavors in coffee and cake, she always takes into account the local taste and international quality.
Numbers may not indicate any noticeable progress in the percentage of women participating in work outside the home. The percentage is actually declining from about 20% in 2005 to less than 8% in 2019.
However, the numbers only tell one side of the story; a new reality is being shaped by the endeavors of women like Anisa, Sahar, and Sahar.
The photo essay was developed by Amal Abdullah, Ahmed Alhagri and Loay Amin, and written by Mustafa Wehbi.
This project was made possible with generous support from: