Breaking barriers: A Dialogue on the Empowerment of Marginalized Women Working in the Hygiene Sector in Yemen

On November 11, 2023, the Yemeni Women’s Voices platform organized a dialogue workshop on empowering marginalized women working in the hygiene sector in Yemen. The workshop was held live in the city of Taiz, southwest of Yemen, and was attended by 20 male and female representatives of government offices, civil society organizations, activists from the marginalized group, and workers in the field of hygiene and improvement, with a ratio of 70% women and 30% men. In addition to three experts, two women and a man from the marginalized group.  

The workshop came up with a number of recommendations presented by experts after reviewing the most prominent problems and issues faced by women working in the field of hygiene. This activity was facilitated by journalist Rania Abdullah.  

Summary of the Dialogue 

 Marginalized women, especially those working in the hygiene sector, suffer from various violations and face complex violations at the level of rights and freedoms, which makes them even more vulnerable.    

With this, Misk Al-Maqrami, Chief Executive of the Kifaya Development Foundation and an activist in the field of marginalized rights, started the dialogue workshop in which she spoke about the situation of marginalized women before and after the war, specifically women working in the field of hygiene, where violations committed against marginalized women increased during and after the war without anyone doing them justice. When marginalized women are subjected to violations, the responsible authorities do not equate them with other women and do not give them their rights or provide them with justice according to the law, citing, for example, the rape of two marginalized girls, so the judge ruled to imprison the perpetrator for only six months.  

Al-Maqrami believes that the main reason for violations is the societal intransigence based on customs and traditions that treat marginalized women with inferiority and discrimination which is reflected in women working in the field of cleaning. According to her, those women are confined to this work as a negative discrimination against them and their energies, and considers it systematic exploitation, as there are no rights given and no compensation to reward the effort expended.  

Misk Al-Maqrami: “Marginalized women also do not receive free medical care or health insurance according to the labor law, as many diseases have spread between marginalized women working in the field of cleaning and their children, such as liver disease and schistosomiasis. When the coronavirus pandemic spread, many marginalized women were infected and transmitted the infection to their children due to the waste they were dealing with without safety tools.”  

Al-Maqrami proposed a number of recommendations that could contribute to the solution, such as promoting a culture of integration and social coexistence among all groups, fair application of the labor law, officially approving contracts for female cleaning workers, and increasing their salaries to compensate for the hard work. In addition to working on various programs by government agencies and local and international organizations to develop marginalized women and eliminate illiteracy among marginalized women.   

While Abdo Saeed Chief executive of the Future Foundation, and an employee at the Hygiene and Improvement Fund, focused on the problems of women working in the field of hygiene and improvement, and in his narration he mentioned a number of issues that he attributed to the legal and administrative aspects.  

Abdo Saeed: “Women working in the Hygiene sector are not granted maternity and infant leave, nor even sick leave. Even worse than that, we documented cases of women working in the sector of hygiene in Taiz who worked until the last days of their pregnancy. There is a case that went into labor while doing her work in one of the streets.  

Ghadeer Al-Adani, a journalist interested in the affairs of marginalized people, attributed what happens to marginalized women to the social and cultural history of Yemen, which is burdened with a great legacy of obstacles, difficulties, views, cultures, and even social customs and traditions that were and still are to this day confining the marginalized group from the life of Yemeni society. Al-Adani attributed what happens to marginalized women to the social and cultural history in Yemen with obstacles, difficulties, cultures, and even social traditions that were and still are to this day restricting the marginalized group from the life of Yemeni society,  

“which makes successive generations of this black-skinned group live amidst a chronic state of social and cultural alienation within their homeland, and this is the origin and beginning of all issues.” 

Al-Adani believes that the marginalized group lives are completely different from the rest of the societal groups. Therefore, this is reflected in the women who pay the bill, such as the lack of multiple jobs, and the lack of suitable housing in which health and public services are available, which makes them unable to appear decent or keep up with society.  

She proposes working on enhancing the culture of social and cultural integration between the marginalized and other segments of society, activating international laws and resolutions, including the Law on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and developing specific programs to empower marginalized women in a number of government institutions and not limit them to the field of hygiene and improvement. In addition to involving them in other fields, including peacemaking and confronting violence.  

After the experts’ interventions, the floor was opened for discussion, and comments were presented by the participants. Their contributions varied, which further enriched the discussion, in which there was a consensus that this was a qualitative workshop and first of its kind, devoted to discussing the problems of women working in the sector of hygiene. Also, the marginalized women felt comfortable that they had presented the workshop and participated in it.    

Hazza Qaed spoke about the lack of official contracts for female hygiene workers, noting that they receive their salaries as aid and support not as wages, and this is what puts them on the verge of danger.   

“In public employment, marginalized women are only allowed to work in the hygiene sector, unfortunately, and a woman’s leave does not exceed more than 15 days, after giving birth, and if her leave period is prolonged, the supervisors in the field will dismiss her and replace her with another woman.”    

The Head of the National Committee for Women in Taiz, Sabah Al-Sharabi, stressed and held the Hygiene and Improvement Fund responsible for this, in addition to institutions and activists interested in supporting the rights of the marginalized group.   

In the second part of the workshop, the participants were divided into three working groups, each group headed by an expert from male and female speakers, the problems of marginalized women working in the hygiene sector were identified, and recommendations and solutions were come up with the solutions and recommendations were discussed between the groups and experts, then each A group reviews its work and discusses it with the rest of the groups.    

The workshop came up with a set of recommendations that were agreed upon by the working groups on the importance of legal awareness, combating illiteracy, and increasing administrative awareness of female hygiene workers as foundations upon which there can be tangible empowerment of women working in the hygiene sector, suggesting the existence of specialized programs by relevant government institutions ,local and international organizations as well as the need to direct interventions to ensure improvement of their legal and financial situation in the short and long term.   

Reem Saeed, one of the hygiene workers who attended the workshop, pointed out the difficulties faced by marginalized women working in the field of cleaning, including being treated with inferiority and contempt by people “who believe that we are obliged to clean their dirt.”  

“Illiteracy is widespread among us marginalized, especially women, and our children are also deprived from education for the same reasons.”   

 Reem Saeed Ahmed and her colleague Yasmine Hazza, who are hygiene workers, did not participate in any workshops related to marginalized women, and they had not previously been invited to attend any workshop or seminars of any kind, and this was their first attendance.    

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