International Women’s Day: A Yemeni woman’s journey to empowerment

Yemeni women celebrate their strength and their achievements this International Women’s Day

Despite conflict and hardship in Yemen, 45-year-old Amt Al Salam is overcoming gender discrimination to build a successful business. This is her story.

Looking back seven years ago, I was completely a different person.

“My mother was everything to me; I never used to take any step without going back to her. When she passed away, it was very difficult for me to believe and accept the fact that she is gone.

“I was depressed for a long time until my uncle came to me and asked me if I would like to join him and be his partner in opening a shop specialising in women’s clothing. To me, that was the light and hope I was looking for.

Yemeni woman holding hand-mirror
Amt Al Salam in her shop

“In my country, women are traditionally expected to follow and be guided by a male figure – their father, brother, or husband.

I grew up in a conservative family where girls are only allowed to complete high school and get married. We were not allowed to work.

“Discussing the idea of opening a shop with my brothers was a very hard task. They refused but my uncle managed to convince them. They agreed but on one condition: I would only go to the shop once every two weeks to check how it is going.

“After a year, I wasn’t able to just sit and wait for two weeks – so I talked with my brothers and I tried to convince them for me to go to the shop every day. First they didn’t accept but then they were convinced that I go three days a week.

“When the conflict began in 2015, things took a dramatic turn. I remember the first six months of the war were very difficult.

There was no fuel in the country; the streets were empty; most of the shops were closed. People were shocked by what was happening – we were just waiting for the nightmare to end.

“My shop was closed for six months but I had to open the shop. So I firmly talked to my brothers that I should open the shop and stand by myself and they agreed.

Amt Al Salam in her shop in Yemen
Amt Al Salam overcame numerous obstacles to create her successful business

“My shop is in the middle of a market and surrounded by shops owned by men. The first day I went to the shop and opened it by myself, my heart was racing so fast; my hands were shaking and I literally stumbled every time I was trying to open the door. I felt like everyone was looking at me but I finally managed to open the door.

As time passed, I got used to it and now I open the shop every day by myself.

“A year later, I heard about CARE’s Women’s Economic Empowerment programme. My application was accepted, and I received training in microfinance, marketing, and life skills.

“I remember the first day we started the training. Once I stepped into the training room, I saw 24 women and I felt so amazed. I felt that I was not alone anymore.

As we began the training and I got to know the other participants, I was so inspired by each and every one of them.

“Sometimes I sit by myself and reflect on how the training came at just the right time; how the marketing training helped me to market my goods; and how microfinancing helped me to manage the enterprise more and be in control.

I was thrilled when I received a loan from CARE.

“It helped me to buy the other half of the shop from my uncle, purchase more goods to sell such as clothing, bags, and make-up, and expand my shop.”

CARE’s women’s economic empowerment programme in Yemen has so far trained 50 women in business planning, microfinance, life skills, and marketing, and provided 14 women with loans to start or expand their enterprises.

Interview by Hind Abbas, Communication Assistant, CARE Yemen.

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