Beyond Violence 

Women and Health Care Services in Yemen: Gender Issues in a Country Tormented by War

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What's happening in Yemen?

The Yemeni Civil War began on 26 March 2015 between the internationally recognised government of President Abdarabo Mansor Hady, supported by the Joint Meeting Parties, and those allied to the Houlthi rebel movement that accused the government of corruption and of planning to marginalise their heartland within a proposed federal system.

This conflict started after the failure of the constitutional reform and the attempt to restructure the military sector and broke into a sequence of violent confrontations between both sides. On September 21st 2014, the Houthis and their allies seized the Capital Sana'a in northern Yemen, and on March 2015, surged toward Aden, in the southern of the country, forcing President Hadi to flee Yemen. Soon after, the exiled president called, on 24 March 2015, for the Gulf Cooperation Council member states and the UN to intervene in Yemen using all possible means including the use of military intervention.

On 26 march 2015, Saudi Arabia led a Military Coalition comprised of five Gulf Arab states and Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, and Sudan that launched a bombing campaign against critical government and military sites loyal to the Houthis across Yemen's territories. In addition, the United States and the United Kingdom provided logistical and intelligence backing for the aerial campaign.

In addition to responding to Yemen's exiled president appeal for military intervention, the Arab coalition sought to prevent Iran from gaining a stronghold in Yemen. The coalition member states repeatedly accused the "Shiite" Houthis of receiving support from Iran and saw their advances in Yemen as an a sign of the increasing Iranian Shiite influence in the area, and of Iran aspirations to encompass the Gulf Arab States and the Arabian Peninsula. In this way, Iran would gain valuable access to the Mandeb Strait, a strategic and economically important section of water that allows the passage of international trade ships and oil tankers from the gulf through the Suez Canal to the European continent.

Long Trips to Hospitals

The fighting took place in most of Yemen’s urban areas and the population had been caught in the crossfire. Thus, confrontations have limited the access of victims of mass emergency situations to hospitals as well as to emergency vehicles seeking to recover casualties or respond to emergency rescue calls which have limited mobility. This situation, together with water and fuel scarcity, forced the casualties to take long trips into the capital Sana’a and Aden, putting their lives at risk to cure simple injuries that could be treated immediately at local hospitals before the war began.

Even after reaching the main hospitals, Yemenites face other issues that can increase their suffering. Vulnerable persons are most affected by infrastructure deficiencies and among them, women experience particular discomfort.

I had the opportunity to speak to a nurse working in the Republican Hospital in Sana'a, which is considered among the larger governmental health providers in Sana'a, where usually complex medical condition cases from outside Sana'a are treated since the erupt of the violence in Sana'a during 2011 and 2015.

The male nurse told me about a female casualty coming from outside Sana'a, with an injury to her shoulder after an air strike on fighters near her family’s home in Dhaleh city, southern Yemen. Due to the absence of female doctors and nurses, her family refused to allow a complete medical examination on her body by a male doctor. So, the emergency doctors performed an urgent procedure on the injury on her shoulder. Later, when a female doctor conducted the complete examination, she found an injury at the patient’s thigh caused by the penetration of a sharp material, so the doctors made a further procedure but only after many hours of waiting and suffering by the patient.

These kinds of episodes are not unusual in Yemen's hospitals. Women risk losing their lives because of a lack of female staff and this is especially true when they arrive in the hospital at night. In fact, usually female doctors won’t be available until morning due to their fear for their reputation if they would stay out working night shifts at the hospital.

There is an absence of statistics and studies of the true mass of gender related issues that affects the lives of female patients and casualties during the war.

The World Health Organization indicated that health facilities across Yemen have reported more than 7600 deaths and close to 42 000 people injured, while local sources at the Ministry of Health and Population in Sana’a reported more than 12 000 deaths and 32 000 injured.

Written by Ali Habeeb and published on 05-June-2017

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