Family in Yemen and population [Archives:2002/05/Health]

January 28 2002

Prepared for publishing by Ismael Al-Ghabiry
Yemen Times
There is a strong interrelated relationship between family and population. There are different exchanged impacts and effects between them. The family is the bio-social reproductive unit for population through birth and socialization. It is a statistical unit used as a base for population surveys and censuses. Moreover, it is one of the most important social organizations in the field of demographic education such as marriage, selection of partner, birth, number of children, understanding of relation between income and the number of family members and family planing.
The family is one of the principal and important units of Yemeni social structure. Family structure has showed many changes and developments since 1962 due to the overall social change: Family type in terms of size and composition, and the social relations within the family and their patterns, the social trends towards female education (schooling) and female outdoor work, and her participation in social and political life and in other social and population processes such as marriage, birth and socialization. Moreover, development and modernization processes in the society like, education, urbanization, migration, profession and trade, growth and diversification have many implications on family. At the same time, it is also valid to say that the Yemeni family is going through a process of change and continuity, simultaneously, despite of its being under the influences of the societal transformations, it continues to carry with it some of the traditional life features. It has not succeeded yet, to get rid of particular backwardness aspects. Many families, especially in the rural remote areas, are still tied to some aspects of inherited social values and trends that became incompatible with the current social life, and hinder social development.
These values and trends are closely tied with female education (schooling), her participation in social and political life, and social attitude towards some population issues related to reproduction, reproduction health and socialization.
On the other hand, the Yemeni family has responded to the different social and economic changes by adopting behavioral patterns that conform with the new social situation. This reaction made the family an active element in modernization and development.
Historical, social and cultural evidences indicate that the Yemeni society witnessed several types of family in terms of structure and size: the extended family, the less extended one, and the nuclear family.
The most prevalent types are the extended and the nuclear ones. The extended type family is the one that is made up of more than one generation live as one family in one domicile that shelters grandfathers, grandmothers, father and mother, unmarried sons and daughters, married sons and daughters with their spouses, and sometimes, other kinds of kinship.
The nuclear family is composed of two generations: father and mother, and the unmarried sons and daughters. They live independently in one dwelling.
Yemeni society still coexists with both of the mentioned types, but we find a growing trend in adopting the nuclear type of family, particularly in urban areas. This trend develops simultaneously with the social, economic and cultural transformations. Some of the elements that stand behind this growing trend are: spread of education which facilitates economic independence of individuals, female outdoors work, migration, and rapid urbanization.
This growing change in types of family leads to further changes in social concepts related to marriage, direct and marriage kinship, birth, power and socialization. Marriage as a social and biological function tends to be a personal affair rather than a family one. Furthermore, despite the fact that birth is strongly valued in Yemeni family, the right to decide upon it, ceased to be an affair of other than the nuclear family members, this change also encourages family planning.
This trend towards the nuclear family does not, necessarily, mean a decline in the average of family size in Yemen. The reasons are: the desire for children and the high fertility rate. The average of family size for the total population of Yemen is 7. The average of family size for the resident population is 6.5, the average of the family members live in one house is 7.2, and the fertility rate of total population is 7.4, in urban areas and 5.6 in rural areas.
This change towards the nuclear family does not negate the importance of the extended family, it only reduces its roles. The extended family still keeps strong relations among its individuals although nuclear families have been established and growing out of it and tend to live far away from it. Moreover, there is an important value in the Yemeni as well as most of Arab and Mulsim societies that perpetuates the existence of the extended family and the desire for birth, specially for male babies. Most of families prefer male babies. They believe that they will later take care for their fathers and mothers when they are old. Sons do not only add power, prestige, strength for their families, but they are also considered as a social insurance for their elders when being old and weak. A field survey in Tihama showed that 73.3% of the participant males said that birth of a son or sons is a support for them in their old ages.
The Yemeni family is a paternal family in terms of power. The father is the head of power strata in the family, he is responsible of economic sustenance of the whole family. He is the sole decision maker. The rest of the family members must respond to and execute his decisions, commands and directions. The paternal power system depends on two dimensions: (domination, control) and (division of labor). Those two dimensions are clearer in the traditional extended family. The father in this type is the head of the strata, responsible of the family (within the boundaries of the family and out side it.)
Then comes the male sons, then the old females who would have some power over the other young females, specially the daughters in-law, but this role of old females is subordinated to the male power.
The paternal power of the old people has implications on all decisions including some demographic issues such as birth and children numbers.
Generally, the family type and the paternal power determine the position of sons and daughters and their roles. In the extended family, the husband and wife do not play very important role of bringing up their children. The grandfather and grandmother practice the greater part and the more direct one in this process. Moreover, the selection of marriage partner (within the kinship net or outside it) comes within the family elders authority and it is determined by the family interest. Sometimes, sons are allowed to select themselves, but within the wide circle demarcated by the elders. Even selection of work or profession and education is not a personal decision.
As an effect of the relative change in the family type towards the nuclear one, a change in the paternal power, roles and position is happening. Some demographic changes within the Yemeni family are developing; such as the new roles of sons, daughters and females. Many families in the urban areas pave the way for their sons to select their partners themselves. Even girls are allowed to participate in their marriage partner selection as well as their education.
Education and work are the main supportive elements in the process of changing Yemeni women situation towards strengthening their role in the family and society.
The implications of the new situation of women on the population issue is proven by many field studies. Women education and outdoor work started to change their behavior related to the population issue. The educated women and those who work outdoors tend to use family planning methods.
Marriage at early age is a good social value for religious, ethical and cultural reasons. Inspire of that the legislator stated the minimum legal age of marriage for males and females at 15, we sometimes find girls who marry at less than this minimum. Despite the relative improvement (rise) in age at marriage because of education and better awareness, the average age at marriage reached 24 for males in country side (1994 census), 25 for males in urban areas, about 20 for females in rural areas and 21 for males in rural areas.
This improvement does not reach the level that we can say the early age at marriage is not a widespread phenomenon in Yemen.
Marriage at early age has its negative effects on the demographic structure as general and on women and family in particular. It leads to birth at early age and recurring births, subsequently it leads to enlarging the size of the family. The Yemeni demographic survey about maternal health shows that the average live birth rate during the reproductive period is about 7.7 The negative effect on women is early school leaving (a report on female education shows that the proportion of drop out among male students is 38% while it is 53% among female students.) The result is the greater domination of husbands on wives and subsequently, wives have the less share in decision of birth issue.
The prevalent culture positive values numerous births. The large number of births strengthen the position of wife within her husbands extended family. She will be cared of much more than the wife who doesnt have children. Another issue related to birth, is the sex of the born child. Boy babies are more preferable than girls. But, it is a declining value, inspire of preserving it within the upbringing process of children.
Qat and behavior patterns connected to qat negatively affect the health of family members. It is a great economic burden on the family. Qat is one of the main causes of the widespread malnutrition.
The tangible changes in consumption patterns due to the social and economic transformations have some positive effects, specially in helping women easily fulfill their home duties, but the families, particularly in the urban areas, are subjected to modernization attraction that distorts the positive social values. The modern communication systems (satellites) is the most famous means of distortion. Some people do not know how to use it positively for education and enlightenment.
Poverty: the complicated poverty causes in society bring about strong repercussions on the family and the society.
Some of poverty causes are:
(a) Population growth which is one of the highest rates in the world (about 3.7%)
(b) The average income rate in Yemen is very low ($285 in 1995). The size of family is very large, this negatively affects the ability to meet the needs of the family members, dependency rate in Yemen is very high (about 116.6 in 1994 census), economical dependency is also extremely high (439.3) according to the same census.
There are many legislations that pertain to family care in Yemen. The constitution clearly emphasizes the necessity of caring for maternal health and women. The civil service law considers difficulties faced by working women during marriage, pregnancy and breast-feeding. The Social Insurance Law (1991) secures insurance for retiring, death and work injuries.
The population policy related to family (the National Strategy) that gives a considerable attention to women and family issues. It concentrates on health care services such us maternal and reproductive health, family planning, female education, illiteracy and empowering women for the different activities, specially her participation in productive work, development and improving quality of life.
In order to improve family situation in Yemen, the following suggestions could be set forth for future actions:
-Efforts should be excreted to increase awareness on family functions and roles to strengthen its structure and protect it form disintegration.
-Urging different mass media to adopt a new attitude in the domain of improving awareness roles and responsibilities within the family to establish equity in dividing home duties among family members.
-Stressing the role of nuclear family and empowering its decisions making abilities with regard to its structure and life ad raising awareness on planning and controlling expenditure.
-Making laws, improving the existing legislation and laws related to family affairs to improve family situation, in the domain of health and social rights.
Protection of family from poverty and vulnerability and supporting the poor through strengthening productive and income generating family programs and activating mechanisms of social security, productive families and community development fund.