Similar to our experience with women in Afghanistan, women in Yemen live under a strict patriarchal society and do not perceive violence or a lack of access to education, information and social services as a violation of their basic rights. The experiences of Yemeni women struggling to survive amid persistent conflicts, recurring human rights abuses and exploitative situations are rarely heard or documented, let alone shared in the private or public sphere.
In May 2013, Equal Access launched “Our Health, Our Future” project in partnership with the Netherlands Embassy to provide Yemeni women and girls critical education on sexual and reproductive health. This was a very challenging topic to address as speaking about sexual reproductive health is a taboo in Yemen and no sexual education training is available in schools. Equal Access was able to carefully navigate through cultural sensitivities and the local context to provide sexual education programming to youth and women who are denied access to such information. This was accomplished through a series of youth-focused radio programs, leadership trainings, listening discussion groups, community reporter trainings, and short videos profiling “changemakers” across eighth districts in Yemen.
Equal Access developed produced 26 episodes of “Lets Be The Best Together” youth radio program and broadcast them throughout the eight target governorates. The episodes covered many reproductive health topics, such as going to the doctor for examinations prior to and after getting married, complications arising from marrying relatives, contraceptives, and HIV/AIDS. Moreover, six leadership trainings were organized for 62 youth peer-to-peer facilitators. These individuals, along with youth previously trained by EA, led 80 listening and discussion groups across the eight target provinces of Sana’a, Aden, Taiz, Hodeidah, Hadramout, Lahj, Ibb, and Dhamar. The listening and discussion groups brought together more than 880 youth (50% girls) to discuss the issues raised in the radio episodes. Equal Access also organized a community reporters training, which equipped 16 youth with various media skills including interviewing techniques, radio production, and ethical reporting practices. Lastly, Equal Access coordinated a creative youth video competition focused around reproductive health issues, which were produced and broadcast during “Our Health, Our Future” celebration week.
These activities resulted in increased awareness of the negative health and development consequences of early marriage and early child bearing, as well as greater knowledge of available resources and direct services for reproductive health and family planning. A participant from one of the listening discussion groups said “Finally embarrassment has been reduced among us when speaking about sexual and reproductive health issues… Our opinions on sexually transmitted infections have tremendously changed as our fear of infections has been mitigated by our increased knowledge of ways to prevent disease and protect ourselves.”