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“My neighbours told me to get an abortion”: what life is like for women in war-torn Yemen

The current war in Yemen has led to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and now 1,500 pregnant women are at risk of death due to the closure of one of the country’s main hospitals. Here, a 26-year-old woman who has lost her home shares her story with Stylist

For the past three years, the country of Yemen has been in a state of war, causing both the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and the largest food security emergency ever seen. 

Twenty two million people are in desperate need of humanitarian aid, while the UN has warned that 14 million Yemenis are currently on the brink of famine. Some 85,000 children under the age of five are thought to have died from acute malnutrition since the war began.

The main hospital in the city of Hodeidah has now become inaccessible, leading the UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, to warn that 1,500 pregnant women are currently at risk of death.

Here, Stylist shares the account of one pregnant woman, Fatima, who fled the fighting in Hodeidah along with her husband and their four daughters. Fatima and her family used to live in the al-Duriahmi district, but are now displaced in Al Buriaka in Aden. They are living in a shack located on a farm.

Fatima is pregnant with her fifth child, and worried about how she will afford the healthcare costs of her pregnancy and subsequent birth. She wants to go back to her house in Hodeidah, and describes living in the open air shack as “tiring”. While the shack protects them from the heat of the sun and the cold of the harsh winds, it is not a real home. 

yemen famine aid crisis

Fatima with two of her daughters

Tell us about your pregnancy experience?

I have four daughters; my oldest girl is 10 because I got married when I was 16. Getting married at such a young age is not good for a girl, especially if she gets pregnant early. I suffered a lot and I [could have] died but thanks to God, I survived. I got pregnant again twice so quickly, but both were miscarriages. Then I had my second baby girl when I was 18. Now she is suffering from a disease but we cannot treat her.

What is the difference between the pregnancies of your four children before and now, being pregnant while you are displaced?

This time my pregnancy is tiring because we do not have any services here and we live in an open place. We are vulnerable to different diseases and I have been sick. Just recently, I had a fever… My neighbours advised me to get rid of the baby and get an abortion, but I told them it’s better to bear the pain. I just came back from a health centre and the doctor prescribed me medicines which cost 15,000 riyals, but I don’t have the money and I can’t afford to buy them.

yemen famine aid crisis

“My neighbours advised me to get rid of the baby and get an abortion, but I told them it’s better to bear the pain”: Fatima and some of her family inside their shack

Will you go to the clinic to give birth?

Giving birth is very difficult and I need to go to the doctor, but the operation is very expensive; it costs between 15,000-20,000 riyals and we do not have this entire amount. When we explain our condition to health workers, they just show sympathy and pray for us.

What is the income of your family? Do you work?

I am working now despite the fatigue associated with the pregnancy. I have no choice but to work and survive. Every morning, I get up and start picking up okra from the farm where we are staying. I work even when I’m sick.

My husband doesn’t have a job so sometimes he has to do hard work, like helping in building or carrying heavy stuff. He usually works for a day or two, and if he is a lucky, he might get a job for a week. Other times, though, he will go for a month without a job. In these times we cannot get food or medicine. There are days when we do not eat our meals. My children go to sleep with an empty stomach… This is our fate.

“My second baby is girl is suffering from a disease, but we cannot afford to treat her”

Are you concerned/afraid about the future of your children?

Definitely, I’m afraid of the future and what awaits them. We are displaced and living in a shack; I am concerned about where I will put the newborn. The winds here are strong and we don’t have enough clothes to warm the kids. My kids here are sick. There are flies, mosquitoes, and insects that are widely spread here. But the war means it is impossible for us to go back to Hodiedha.

Do you get help from anyone?

We need help; no one here looks after us. If one of us gets sick and needs treatment, we cannot afford to help him or her. Although sometimes we get money from people so we hide it for emergencies.

If you would like to help, please see more information on the crisis and ways to donate via UNHCR, Unicef, Save the Children and the Red Cross

Images: UNFPA Yemen

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