Yemeni women uncertain on International Labor Day

Asma al-Mohattwari 

People around the world celebrated International Labor Day on May 1st, though many, including Yemenis, treated it as a normal holiday. However, women workers took it differently, especially if they only have a professional holiday rather than one inside the home.

For many women workers, employment is no longer a desirable means to meet a professional goal, but rather a way to ease financial burdens and stress. Many Yemeni women who do work do so in order to help their male family members. 

Bushra Abdurrahman struggled a great deal since her father died when she was in secondary school. She began working as a seamstress to pay for school fees. After several years, she got a job in a Sana’a school, and began to work more comfortably. She got married one day, but didn’t quit her job, and began struggling again when she had to balance family life with professional obligations.

“It was so difficult for me to get up in the early morning to make my husband breakfast, and then drop my children off at kindergarten, and then go to work. I eventually sold my jewelry to buy a car.”

Bushra said that an uncooperative husband would make things even harder. She also went on to say that International Labor Day didn’t affect all of her work.

“On this day, the government honors workers by giving them a double salary as a reward, but it is only symbolic, and does not deeply affect the worker.”

Sana’a Ahmed agreed that the gesture is not enough, especially for professional women.

“Their monthly salaries don’t provide them and their families a decent life. There are also workers suffering from injustice and tyranny within their facilities from their immediate supervisors. Some are deprived of promotions because they refuse to partake in corruption.”

Ala’a al-Safer said that there have been major developments for Yemeni women lately, and that labor politics should reflect this. According to her, many women leaders are still veterans from struggles in the sixties and seventies.

“There is a generation of creative, skilled youth ready to make their mark in many different sectors, and become a new Yemeni community. Life can only go forward if we can firmly grasp the country, rather than go backwards with an earlier generation.”

Yemeni women are having immense difficulties in breaking into the workforce. The rate of women economic strength has risen from 9.6% in 2004, but was only 9.7% in 2010. An additional problem is that many surveys are not comprehensive. Officials in the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs even said that they do not know how many women are in the labor market, only having detailed figures to 1999.