Yasmin Al Qadasi has a background in public health. Before she moved to the Netherlands in 2019, she lived in Sana’a, working in the fields of health and dentistry and providing humanitarian assistance. She is currently based in The Hague and works at Cordaid’s Global Office.
“Before 2011 we all had our lives, our plans, and dreams. Then the Arab Spring reached Yemen. Instability started. For a few years, we hoped things would calm down. They didn’t. The Houthis took Sana’a in 2014 and a full-blown war broke out.
Before the war, things were already bad. Ever since 2011, life was stripped down to the bare necessities. Public services practically collapsed. I had lost my job as a dentist because the roads were blocked and I couldn’t go to work. Electricity was already down by then. I had one young child at the time. We found ways to survive. I got a job at the Dentistry College in Sana’a. We had just enough to afford things like a generator and have our own electricity. Most of the people are too poor to even secure these basic living requirements.”
‘YOU HAVE TO HIDE THIS FEAR’
“The bombing of Sana’a was beyond words. Whatever I say, it doesn’t convey what we went through. In front of our home, there was a Houthi arsenal. A lot of bombs were dropped there. Broken windows and shaking houses, every time. And the deep fear your children might get hurt. You have to hide this fear from them. We expected to die any time. All this time, we just continued. Comforting and protecting my child. Going to work, supervising students. Even celebrating their graduation.”
“For a woman, every checkpoint is a fearsome risk.”
“Poverty is extreme in Yemen, especially in the Houthi-controlled north, where authorities collect taxes but come with nothing in return. Normally, a teacher would earn about 50 USD a month. But salaries, to teachers and other public servants, haven’t been paid for a long time. If you have some reserves you can buy water, food, a generator, a solar panel. Most people can’t. They survived the bombings and are now dealing with famine, with cholera outbreaks. In the government-controlled south with Aden as the main city, the situation is only slightly better.”
“In 2016 I switched from dentistry to humanitarian work. It changed my life. With others, I distributed food to people in need and distress. Later, we started working with local organisations, helping women to generate at least a minimum of income. But I wanted to do more. That’s why I started studying the basics of public health, all by myself.
I successfully applied for a scholarship of the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam. In 2019 I managed to move to Amsterdam. I am the only one to get a visa. I now have two daughters, 6 and 10 years old, but they can’t visit me.
Diaspora life is double-edged. Last year, I graduated. I now have a master’s degree in public health. Which is great. But I am far away from my children and family. Every day, their safety is my main worry. The Netherlands has offered me a lot. I can only express gratefulness. And be in awe by how well-organised things are. But apart from my kids, there is so much more I miss. Here, individuality is king. In Yemen, people share everything they have. They support one another, meet, and laugh. Even if they only have sorrow and hardship. People enjoy life, even if they have no life. I miss that warm feeling of collectiveness.”
REACHING OUT TO OTHER YEMENI WOMEN
“Cordaid increasingly invests in Yemen, both with its health care activities and with its humanitarian assistance. Working with them helps me to be nearer to my country. And somehow to reach out to my fellow people.”
“The international community needs to invest in more gender-sensitive policing.”
“My future wish is to help strengthen Yemen’s health system myself, inside Yemen. And most of all, to reach out to other Yemeni women. As a single mom, I know what they carry. They bear the brunt of the insecurity, the economic collapse, the educational collapse. And obviously, of the health system collapse. Every two hours a woman in Yemen dies because of complications during or after child delivery. Unaccompanied by men, women are not able to reach a doctor when needed. For a woman, every checkpoint is a fearsome risk. And there are many.
Ever since the war, the horrors of child marriage, of gender-based violence like femicide and honour killings, of poverty and illiteracy among women and girls, of stigma due to divorce, have sharply increased.”
THE WAR AGAINST WOMEN
“Even when this war will be over, Yemen will be a tougher place for women and girls to live for decades to come. Because inside this current war, there are other wars going on and they will not stop after a peace agreement. One of them is the war against women. It will take a long time to restore a rule of law and to re-establish values and norms to protect women. Men have become so used to violence, to using weapons and translating their pains and frustrations into gender-based violence.”
“Women have the right to act and decide independently. To move freely and to report cases of abuse without fear, without ‘disappearing’.”
“To stop this, we can do a lot. We don’t need to wait for the war to stop – which obviously is priority number one. The international community needs to invest in more gender-sensitive policing. More advocacy efforts are needed to pressure governments, also Houthi authorities, to respect women’s rights and human rights in general. Women have the right to act and decide independently. For that, they need opportunities to raise an income. To move freely and to report cases of abuse without fear, without ‘disappearing’. In the big cities, and above all, in the rural areas.”
‘SOMETHING IS GONE’
“Like others in and from Yemen, I haven’t really lived for the past 10 years. We have stopped dreaming. Just like kids stopped playing in the streets. Something is gone. But I have also become stronger. There isn’t much that will keep me from following my plans. We are all traumatised. But we continue. We haven’t given up.”