The plight of Yemeni women [Archives:2008/1173/Community]

July 17 2008

By: Ivy Natera Al-Lahabi
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As an educated woman married into a family of uneducated women, I must say that the innocence garnered from ignorance is the least to be desired.

An uneducated woman doesn't know when her children are sick, when they require medical attention, when they must be corrected for lack of social discipline or how they must eat healthy well-cooked meals and be kept off the streets. Neither does she know how to keep a clean home (other than how she was taught by another uneducated woman), nor have any idea about prevention, whether it involves a dispute in the home or caring for her home and family.

She is clueless as to what goes on around her and is incapable of fixing most situations because her thought process is triggered only by her husband when he is around – which isn't often.

She's unable to keep herself occupied away from wagging tongues that have nothing better to do than discuss their neighbors' lives because she doesn't how to sew, knit, paint or tend a garden simply for the pure pleasure of a beautiful home.

Instead, she sits listlessly staring at other women or into thin air while her children grow up as ignorant as her, in turn, teaching her daughters the four dishes her mother taught her. Likewise, she tucks away the family clothing into corners or windowsills to later wash and then hang outside amid the garbage and dust.

Her concept of life is toiling unproductively just as she was shown – maybe the only way her mother or aunts knew how to do things – the hard way. I come from a family of women who were highly educated – AT HOME – and knew more about the world and how to navigate it than most Yemeni women. Because all of us knew how to read and write, we could spend quiet afternoons learning new recipes to serve the family, sewing new items for the children, repairing husbands' clothing and tending fruit, vegetable and flower gardens in order to keep the home well fed and beautiful.

A spotless home, well-groomed and sweet-natured children, a masterful cook and an intelligently well-versed wife were the hallmarks of excellent education in my home.

Education is multi-layered – from the etiquette of how to act, speak, move and behave properly and precisely, to vocational skills such as cooking, sewing and gardening, to academic skills that help future generations do well in school and in their lives. Education is broad and must be seen as an integral part of human development.

It's not an academic degree that makes an educated woman better (or worse) than an uneducated one; rather, it's social and vocational education with the proper skills that makes a woman truly educated in being a human being. When one has this as a solid foundation, academic education is enhanced.

However, for Yemen, the case will continue to be less than perfect homes, less than great food that's always the same, although never tasting the same (one day salty, one day bland), children as wild as cats and dingy clothing made unusable because less care was put into it. Unfortunately, such women didn't know any better because they weren't educated to perfect anything within their realm because they were never allowed such an education.

Shame, shame, ya Yemen – how you have continued to bury your baby girls in the sand!