A safe space provides a lifeline for Amal

by Frances Smith in Yemen

Three years ago, when an air strike destroyed their home, Amal,* her husband and their five children fled their village, Haradh, in Yemen’s Hajjah Governorate.

Traumatized, the family set up home in Ibb City, more than 300 kilometres away from their village in a one-room shop, where they work, cook, eat and sleep. The air strike had killed Amal’s parents and most of her siblings, and seriously injured one of her sons, who now walks with crutches.

A safe space is now helping Amal to not only recover from the trauma but to regain her dignity.

The Safe Space for Women and Girls, run by the Yemen Women Union (YMU) and supported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), provides vocational training as well as counselling, women’s protection services and awareness-raising sessions on health issues.

Amal learned how to sew this year, and YWU provided her with a sewing machine, a battery and solar panels for electricity and materials for sewing. Within a month, Amal sold 10 dresses to her neighbours, and made a little money. She is now learning to read and write.

Amal sees the counsellor regularly at the safe space and has formed strong relationships with other women at the centre. “They [the centre] give us a chance to train and earn a living, treat us nicely and provide psychological support,” says Amal.

Her ties with the centre are so strong that 15 days after giving birth recently, she was back at the Safe Space, often walking two hours each way to get there as she has no money for transport. She clearly values the support the project provides.

The money that Amal is now able to earn contributes to her husband’s meagre earnings from selling food, though the couple still struggles to pay the shop’s monthly rent, which is about $60.

When they first arrived in Ibb, Amal sold her jewellery to pay for medical treatment for her injured son. But five months ago, she ran out of money, so the treatment has stopped. She now nurses his injuries. None of her children go to school, as she and her husband cannot afford it.

Though she has found strength at Safe Space, Amal longs to return to her village. “I would go home and live in a tent if there was no war,” she says.
The Safe Space, which opened to displaced and local women in April 2019, is oversubscribed. Between 60 and 80 women attend every day, and by December 2019, 11,235 women and girls had benefited from the service, with another 2,354 on the waiting list. YWU runs three such centres in Ibb.

There are 30 Safe Spaces across the country run by YWU, the NGO Deem and other partners, supported by UNFPA. The Safe Spaces are currently funded until mid-2020.

*Amal’s name has been changed.