Rural women: Faithful to garden, family, and ambitions for a future [Archives:2007/1015/Reportage]

January 11 2007

By: Fatima al-Ajel
[email protected]
Saddam Al- Ashmori
For Yemen Times

All around the sounds of globalization and its by-product call for women's rights and equality with men. Regardless of these calls, you will find those who heed it and those who cannot. You will find an increasing amount of women who work alongside men in the fields, family farms and stores.

The women in rural areas rarely if ever think of their rights, most actually do not know their rights. It's a hard existence and in many cases it involves work, traditionally done by men, devoid of rewards – be they salaries or a “thank you,” many patiently labor from sunrise to sunset and beyond. Under these conditions, how do they face life's difficulties? How do these women balance the work in side the house with their duties outside their homes? What are the dreams and aspirations for the future they hold dear? Are there any among them who have opportunities for an education?

It would seem a few women actually do study in rural areas. Anhar Qaid, 16, lives with her parents and seven sisters in the Bani Hashash region. She and her sisters are educated but the conditions to attain such milestones are harsh.

“My father allowed us to study with the condition that we had to work in the farm after school. It's a balancing act to work and study,” she explains. “Some of us will work inside the house while the other girls will work in our big garden. It's a necessity because there are no brothers to help my father”.

In the early morning hours, Anhar goes with her father to plow and help with other cultivating duties of the farm. She does not return to the house until sunrise when she takes her breakfast with her sisters and prepares for school. In the afternoon, she is back in the fields finishing what she had started in the early hours alongside her father.

As night falls, Anhar does not have time for leisure.

“My evenings are spent in study and helping my younger sisters with their class work,” said Anhar while explaining her life full of unending duties, but also her unending energy reflected in her excellent grades in school. But she does have difficulty finding time for herself.

“We don't have time to watch TV except on holidays,” she explains, but despite the balancing act of work and study she is hopeful. “I plan to be a teacher in the same school I study now”.

That same hopeful streak encapsulates Faiza Rizaeg. She was able to complete her studies in secondary school and now studies in the Faculty of Education at the University of Sana'a. It was an up-hill battle for her.

“I was faced with many difficulties when I finished secondary school. My father and brothers would not agree to my studying at university. I kept up my arguments to convince them for two straight years, never once letting up. When they finally saw how determined I was to finish my education they agreed,” she said.

Faiza, like Anhar, plans to become a teacher in her village.

“I want to help all girls who want to study and I will do my best to improve the education in my village,” says a hopeful Faiza.

Anhar's case is a reflection of women commonly seen working in the fields instead of men. The lack of men in the rural areas, along with poverty forces many women to work with their fathers and husbands. It lessens the problem and provides a solution for poor families that cannot employee men to work their farms.

Jawahery Yahya Al-Darb is one such woman. She works alongside her father in the farm using traditional plowing tools to sow the garden and reap the land's yield, followed by bringing water from the far well located in the village.

Jawaher comments that leisure time for her is all about caring for the family's cows and sheep and collecting dung to use it as fertilizer in the gardens. For her hard work she had to let her studies slide – the last year attended in school was the third grade.

“My father didn't allow me to study further because there was no one to help him with the farm. He believes that it is enough for a girl to learn to read, write, and pray,” she explains.

Khadijah Ali Moslah believes women play very important roles in developing society. This village girl from Amran's valley says women should keep busy with work that does not allow for free time.

“It's considered a shame in my village for girls to be idle,” she said, explaining that girls have to learn some type of handicraft or at least help their mothers at home in addition to studying.

“I have to work in the kitchen helping my mother prepare lunch in the morning. Then I go to school in the afternoon,” she said.

During the evenings, however, she takes on a different job alongside her father.

“I go with my father to guard our qat farm,” she explains. “Because I am the eldest and there are no sons it becomes my responsibility to help my father, especially if he is tired from the day's work or from his travels to the city.”

Therefore, from the guardhouse she and her father will stand alert against any trespassers into their qat crops.

Qat farms are an expensive endeavor exposed to constant thievery. Its crop yields fast, liquid money and needs constant surveillance.

Khadijah is well aware of the positives and the negatives.

“We face constant dangers. At night I will hear strange voices circling around in the farm,” she explains, but she is always prepared. “I always carry my gun during the night, always at the ready to fire should there be a thief on the premises.”

She is ready to use her gun so far she hasn't “caught a thief, but I have to be careful.”

When asked about her studies and hopes, Khadijah's answer reflects the beliefs in some villages that for girls especially education is unessential.

“My family told me there is no benefit to studying and because the school was too far away from my house they would not allow me to attend,” said Khadijah.

But it would seem times are changing for the girls because Khadijah adds, “Now there is a school near to us, so my younger sisters study”.

As hard as many of these living conditions may seem these girls do find ways of making life enjoyable if only for the moment. You can hear them calling to each other in the early mornings as they go to the wells for water or in the mountains to collect wood for fuel.

“In our village we don't use gas to cook, so we go out to gather wood. We are never bored, especially if we are outside working,” says Fatima Salah Ali, also a villager from Amran who is not in school. “My family considers working in the farm more important than going to school”.

However, not everyone owns a farm. There are many villagers who work for richer farmers or own business of their own. And even here you will find the women putting in her share of the work.

Klwied Al-Tawily has been working her small family store since her father's death.

“I am responsible for three sisters and a young brother. This shop is my family's main source of income,” she said, but this work allows her space to change gear during the day. “I shift with my brother: In the morning I work then in the afternoon it's my brother's turn and I can attend school during that time.”

Father's it would seem have their own opinions of what constitutes work and schooling for their daughters.

Haj Salah Ali Yahya comments he does not have sons who can help him in his large garden. And while he acknowledges the importance of a girl's education, he is subject to his living conditions.

“You know, we live in a rural area and we have to help each other. A girl's education is important and mostly girls are better than boys,” he explains, but with a twist. “Home is the better of schools for girls to learn how to be a good wife in the future.”

He also realizes the differences between girls in rural areas and those in larger urban cities saying, “Rural girls, generally, don't need to study like urban girls who can spend time studying so they can then seek work in offices or put their names on the waiting lists for official positions”.

According to the supreme council for educational planning statistics for the enrolled pupils in Basic Education according to sex and urbane for 2004-2006 says the gap between male and female enrollment is in favor of males. This is so because some families discourage girls from going to school especially at the higher education level. The reason is that families want to make use of their female children for housework and some others only want boys to earn an education. Another reason is the lack of qualitative secondary education, which guarantees that graduates, especially girls, may acquire the skills to enter the job market.

However, what may give hope in increasing the education in rural is that The number of enrolled students in rural areas is higher than in urban ones. The number of enrolled students in rural areas totaled to 3,280,227. It is argued that this increase, being higher than the targeted rate of the strategy, is the result of the decline in the population growth rate by a half percent.