By YoumnaFathi Al-Aswadi, author of a background paper for the Arab States 2019 GEM Report on migration, displacement and education
The protracted conflict in Yemen since March 2015 has resulted in significant human suffering. More than 3.65 million people have been internally displaced, at least 1.71 million of whom are children.
Internally displaced children experience additional challenges besides the ones that every child in Yemen has encountered before and during this war. Unluckily, the most significant share of these challenges is for girls, especially as regards education.
Most IDPs come from rural areas who lost their livelihood due to the conflict. Poverty disabled most of the IDPs from enrolling all of their children in schools. Most parents cannot afford school registration or exam fees, food, school bags, stationery and others such costs. If they have few financial resources, they prefer to use them to educate boys, since it is believed that boys are more likely to be the breadwinners in the future. Parents from rural areas value sons more than daughters. They do not believe in the benefit of girls’ education. Therefore, they do not see sending girls to school in host communities as a primary concern, especially under the heavy weight of the hardship they are living. Many parents tend to marry off their daughters to take advantage of their endowment and to reduce the number of family members, which reduces financial burdens. Some families marry off their daughters during displacement to protect their girls from shame and keep the family honour.
That said, some IDP parents allow their daughters to go to school, but in most sites where they are hosted, girls’ schools are not available. Girls are not allowed to attend mixed classes. Besides, many parents prefer female teachers for their girls. But, as the Arab States 2019 GEM Report notes, like other civil servants in Houthi-controlled governorates, teachers have not received their salaries since 2016, which has exacerbated the shortage of female teachers available.
Furthermore, many schools are totally or partially damaged due to the conflict, and many schools are used as shelters for IDPs or as Military barracks, which exaggerate the shortage of government schools, especially in host communities. This leaves schools overcrowded. And the situation is far worse in rural areas, where schools are even scarcer. It is hard for internally displaced parents to search for another school that may or may not accept their girls. It is easier to shut girls out of schools and keep them home to help with fetching water and other household chores. For girls who do find a school they can attend, they may have to walk for a long distance on foot to reach the nearest school, which is a perilous journey. During these long journeys to school, girls may face sexual harassment, which is a key reason parents pull their daughters out of education entirely.
In addition, most available schools suffer from a shortage of furniture and a disrupted sanitation system. Schools are not gender-sensitive; thus, internally displaced girls, like any other girls, find they are not welcome there, are absent a lot as a result.
Is there any point sending girls to school if the quality of education is so low, if there are no teachers, not enough textbooks and improper facilities? The government does not have any policies or procedures to enforce compulsory education for children, in particular internally displaced girls. Neither the government nor the international community considers education a priority during emergencies.
The need for proof of prior certification is complicating matters. As the Arab States 2019 GEM Report document, the ministry has exempted IDPs from registration fees and authorized schools to accept IDPs without documents or certificates. In practice, however, schools still ask IDP students to fill out an education history form and bring an approval note from the nearest education office. Ministry officials say the records cannot be lost because schools send lists of students’ names with a certificate copy for archiving in district education offices. However, if schools or education offices were damaged and students lost their original copy during displacement, they cannot prove their past studies. These challenges particularly affect girls, with families always choosing the easier solution by keeping them home without any sense of guilt.
Social, cultural, and economic barriers stand in the way of girls’ education, especially the most vulnerable girls. Internally displaced families end up believing that keeping girls at home is an easier option than sending them to school. As this cycle continues families end up even less aware of the importance of education for girls and its benefits for them and the whole society.