Female Pioneers in the medical field [Archives:2007/1088/Last Page]

September 24 2007

Atiqa Al-Shami

The first female nursing services in northern Yemen was initiated by a woman with chains in her legs. She was Atiqa Al-Shami who established nursing homes in Sana'a. Post the revolution in 1962 she started nursing homes in Taiz, Hodaidah, Ibb, Dhamar and Hajja governorates.

“I found myself desperate for work after the death of my husband leaving me with a new born baby girl, a widowed mother and a young brother to support. During that time, no one would approve of women's work in public place. The soldiers of Imam Al-Badr put chains in my legs because of my work in nursing and still I continued,” described Al-Shami the beginning of her career. The soliders upon instructions from the Imam came to the center and put chains in her legs, although she along with 15 young women received training in nursing. However, she was the director of the center and was the one to face the music, as they say.

The World Health Organization sent at that time trainees, from Lebanon, Egypt and Syria. “Bait Al-Halali” a small house near the Imam Al-Badr's residence was the place from which female nursing movement was launched. That was in return to a monthly rent.

The other pioneer women were also oppressed, but they continued providing health care services to women. She used to walk from her home to the center with restricted steps, and when the soldiers came to remove the chains after some time, she refused. She wanted more people to see her struggle so that she conveys a message to the world. And the world did hear. With time she gained respect and positions in the republic, until she headed the nursing sector in the republic of Yemen as a whole.

Zainab Laliji

She is a bilingual woman, who was ahead of her time. She spoke in both English and Arabic and was of the pioneer women educated in south Yemen. After Zainab Laliji graduated from high school in 1955 she talked her father into letting her study nursing.

“During that time the society did not receive women working in nursing with open arms. But my father was very liberal, and not only did he allow me to enter nursing collge, he also convinced other parents of the same,” said Laliji.

For the first time, the college of nursing received 10 female students to study side by side with ten male students in 1956. Laliji did not waste time, for in that year she also enrolled in a nursing training course at the Queen's Hospital in Aden. She also trained as a midwife in the motherhood home and started working there after completing the course in 1958.

When she graduated from college, she took a high level midwifery course for two years. In 1963 she flew to London to study at the Royal University for Nurses which required an entrance exam conducted by the World Health Organization, needless to say, she passed with flying colors.

Laliji came back as head of nurses at the Motherhood Hospital (today known as China Hospital). However, in 1966 she changed careers and moved to teaching at Ameen Nasher's Institute for Health Sciences.

Despite the long experience and continuous giving, she does not feel well cared for after retiring in 1996. Such is the story of many pioneer women in Yemen.