Yemen’s four years of devastating civil war have taken the hardest toll on women and girls. Many have become widowed and must support their families alone without the needed skills or education. In one remote desert village, the U.S. aid group International Rescue Committee has established a center for teaching skills and empowerment to vulnerable women and girls. 

Intekab Ali Abdulwasi, a mother of five girls, fled fighting in her home in Taiz to the remote village of Raz Amran.

And as many Yemeni men have lost livelihoods – for some, even their lives – women and girls are finding themselves in unfamiliar territory as the new breadwinners of the family.

Abdulwasi’s husband is safe, but has been too sick to work.

She says she and her daughters are learning new skills so they can get out of poverty and help their family. With her husband sick, Abdulwasi says it is important for women and girls to learn skills to be able to survive and provide for the house. 

Abdulwasi and her daughters attend classes in the Al Boureqa Center, founded by the New York-based International Rescue Committee to empower Yemen’s women.

Fairouz Yassin, a caseworker at the center, says about 50 women and girls are trained daily or simply spend time there – a safe space close to home.

She says in this area of Raz Amran, the people are very traditional. Women often do not leave their homes because they do not want to mix with the men. If they go to other places to learn, they must ride on public transportation. But many of their husbands at home forbid them from doing so, and from leaving the area. 

For women like Abdulwasi, this is also a chance to break free from Yemen’s conservative cultural norms and enter the workplace for the first time. 

Abdulwasi says that before the war, women in Yemen had been forgotten. But when the organizations came to remote areas in Yemen, because of the war, the women and girls were able to advance themselves and their skills.

According to Yassin, the center also provides counseling for gender-based issues and abuse that case workers say has shown a marked increase with the fighting in Yemen.

Yassin says the caseworkers are seeing higher levels of domestic violence due to the pressures men are facing because of the war. Men are taking all their anger out on their wives. For the men that leave home for long periods of time, the women then had to become everything. Then she would be struggling with mental illness and trauma because of the war. And she would reach a point where she can not handle it anymore, and this would bring the woman to the center.

The center is already shifting gender dynamics in the community. 

Abdulwasi says her husband supports her plan to one day open her own tailoring shop and to run it with her daughters.