Firewood-gathering Claims the Lives of Women in Al-Mahweet

The tragedies of falling, exposure to violence and abandonment
Fawzi Al-Montaser
March 21, 2023

Firewood-gathering Claims the Lives of Women in Al-Mahweet

The tragedies of falling, exposure to violence and abandonment
Fawzi Al-Montaser
March 21, 2023

Somaya, an 18-year-old mother of four, was subjected to various forms of domestic violence and severe beatings since her childhood, until her forcible marriage before she was fourteen years old.

Somaya, who lives in one of the districts of Al-Mahweet Governorate, southwest of the capital, Sana'a, recalls in her interview with "Khuyut", the tragedy she experienced in her father's house before this misery moved with her to her husband's house, where she was subjected to various types of domestic violence, whether verbal or physical abuse, which is the most, according to her.

She says: “The most severe violence that I experienced was when I was a student, one day my father chased me to school, and beat me severely in front of my classmates, and then directed me to go to the valley, while I was barefoot, to collect firewood, and then return with a large bundle to the house at the noon".

According to Somaya, her father's motive behind her abuse at the time was that she did not ask him for permission to go to school, even though he was asleep, according to her. Instead, she had told her mother to inform him that, in anticipation of any reaction from her father, as she knows and his short tempered. She remembers this incident on a daily basis and cries, and she cannot forget it; because her life is still full of suffering and endless violence.

In addition to her internal pains, Somaya is still suffering from wounds in her feet, as a result of her exposure to thorns and bruises when she obeyed her father’s orders and went barefoot to the bottom of the valley with rugged geography and full of jagged stones and thorns, especially during her return while carrying a pile of firewood that weighs approximately 70 kilograms.

The life of women in Al-Mahweet Governorate (west of the capital, Sana’a), was not devoid of various kinds of suffering and violence, which permeated every detail of their exhausted life which is full of difficulties, violence and desertion. Then the war came nearly eight years ago, exacerbating their pains in a more tragic way, which exposed them to serious risks that sometimes to the extent of losing their lives.

According to extensive monitoring carried out by "Khuyut", women in Al-Mahweet were the most prominent victims of the war and its disastrous consequences in this governorate, which robbed them of many rights and exacerbated the severity of domestic violence against them. In addition, many women and girls have been struggling in the arduous daily life trips for logging in the heights of the mountains and some of them fall from the mountain top to valley in fatal accidents, due to hardship and poverty, which pushed women to take on double responsibilities fraught with tragedies and multiple dangers.

Moreover, "Khuyut" investigative report reveals a number of incidents and crimes that women in Al-Mahweet were subjected to, which are often covered up. The domestic violence includes premeditated murder by direct relatives, deprivation of their basic rights and falling from mountains while logging, as a major example that embodies the reality of women in these remote areas, who suffer double abandonment as a result of neglect and lack of attention by the media as well as civil and local organizations.

Further, "Khuyut" documented, during the investigation, in some villages, which were concentrated in three districts only, more than 55 cases, all of whom were females subjected to various forms of domestic violence, either physical or verbal. The total number of victims, in all the villages and rural areas within those three districts only, is estimated at hundreds, let alone if the overall statistics of the number of victims in all districts of Al-Mahweet Governorate revealed. It will certainly be very staggering, and may exceed thousands of victims.

Hard Treks

The lack and scarcity of household gas prompted most of the women in the mountainous countryside of Al-Mahweet to embark on a journey of searching for firewood for cooking, in high and rugged mountain paths, which made them pay the price of their lives for these risky trips.

Additionally, "Khuyut" confirmed five cases of intentional murder of women in Al-Mahweet during the past two years, including three women who were deliberately killed in gruesome ways by first-degree relatives such as husband, brother, or father.

Abdullah Ali, a 50-year-old resident of Jabal Al-Mahweet District, told Khuyut that the greatest suffering women face, as a result of the repercussions of the war, is represented in climbing mountains and rocky plateaus, in search of firewood, which most families resort to, as an alternative to domestic gas, due to their poverty which prevent them to buy gas at exorbitant prices so that they resort to logging fraught with many risks.

Similarly, Ahmed Mohsen (37 years), a resident of the Bani Sa'ad area, agrees with Abdullah, and stated in his interview with "Khuyut" that there have been more than three female death cases, since the beginning of this year, as a result of falling from mountain heights, during the course of collecting firewood. This risky option requires women to climb mountains or when returning with bundles of firewood that are carried on heads and walk with them in rugged and dangerous mountain paths and roads. But despite all these dangers, it did not stop women from logging, because of the difficult living conditions, poverty and hunger.

For her part, Yasmine Talib (29 years old) believes that the journey to search for potable water is also fraught with many dangers, as she confirms to "Khuyut", that the suffering has increased dramatically in recent years, which coincided with a change in seasonal rainfall and extended periods of drought, especially in the summer.

Women bear the consequences of these climate changes, through the arduous journeys they undertake to search for water in mountainous places and canyons, which is not devoid of multiple dangers, to reach water sources where they can fill a container with an amount of up to 20 liters.

Another type of abuse

In the story of another female victim who is a mother, and her abuser is her son who claims to be playing the role of the family sponsor, after the death of his father many years ago, according to his mother Juma'a (60 years old). She told "Khuyut" that she and her two daughters are now subject to repeated violence by her son, on the simplest things from which he creates an actual justification for their well-breeding, as he claims.

Jumaa narrated her story, with sadness and pain, the marks of the punch still visible on her face: “He is looking for the simplest motive to practice violence, for example, if his wife complained to him about one of his sisters, or one of his sisters objected to do something, or one of the neighbors complained to him, even if it was fabricated a complaint about me or about his sisters, he comes to us with great anger, and beats us with violence, without even verifying the validity of that claim.” She added, pointing her finger at her face, which still showing signs of beating: "This is what you see in my face, it was only when I tried to save his sister, when he was assaulting her with all his might, due to a complaint and false accusations by his wife."

According to his mother, not even his wife was spared of violence, but the violence practiced against his wife is very rare, and only happened once or twice, but the grieving mother sees that, it was as a response from God, to the injustice and violence that befalls her and her two daughters by her son , because of false excuses and complaints woven by his wife; She added that: "Last year, he assaulted his wife at home, by kicking her until she fell from the top of the stairs to the bottom at the outer door, and she remained affected by the injury for more than a month. As a result of her rolling down the stairs, and also falling, she miscarried her baby."

In spite of the various forms of domestic violence practiced against women and girls in the same governorate, and the number of victims among them, it remains unrevealed but locked inside the walls of homes, and no one knows anything about it, in the absence of any private or human rights body monitoring this, especially in the remote mountain districts.

Violence leading to a murder

The excessive violence to which women are subjected in Al-Mahweet varies between verbal, physical and psychological, according to the testimony of families and population sources, according to "Khuyut".

Ameen Shawqi, a specialist in public health and community awareness, says that the violence to which women are exposed to in Al-Mahweet by the masculine authority in society has increased significantly in recent years, due to the consequences of the war. It produced many repercussions and effects with the exacerbation of forms and means of violence against women and this led to premeditated murder in its various and heinous forms.

"Khuyut" confirmed five cases of intentional murder of women in Al-Mahweet during the past two years, including three women who were deliberately killed in gruesome ways by first-degree relatives such as husband, brother, or father.

The author of this report traced these three murder cases, as the first incident occurred in the Al-Rujom District, when the perpetrator, the husband, Nabil Al-Suraihi, stalked his wife, the victim, Mona Ali Al-Jabali, and killed her, with a white weapon, at their home, at night, on the grounds that the wife had gone to court requesting the annulment of the marriage. 

This crime was preceded by a similar murder of a woman, a wife, in Jabal Al-Mahweet in the Bani Sa'ad area, when the husband has shoot his wife dead, after she and her brother returned from a court session, to which she had resorted to demand a divorce from her husband.

The methods of deprivation and robbing of the rights of girls and women are still practiced against them by the masculine authority, as they are subjected to the cruelty of deliberate deprivation of any rights guaranteed by the law and the Yemeni constitution. However, the authority of robbery along with the social customs were and still prevalent in many districts and villages of Al-Mahweet Governorate.

In addition to these two crimes, a heinous murder took place late last year, although the place of its occurrence was outside the area of Al-Mahweet, in Haraz, adjacent to Al-Mahweet. However, the victim belonged to the Bani Sa'ad district, one of the districts of Al-Mahweet governorate, and the district completely adjacent to the Haraz area in Manakhah of Sana'a Governorate.

The perpetrator carried out his crime, according to informed local sources - who preferred not to be identified - who spoke to "Khuyut", after he took his children to sleep with his mother, justifying that he wanted to spend good time with his wife, but it was the fateful moment. The husband has awfully slaughtered his pregnant wife, and mutilated her corpse, and then threw her from the top of a mountain in Haraz, to cover up his crime, to be an accidental fall as the corpse, after throwing it, reached the bottom of a valley in the Al-Qadam area, affiliated to the Bani Sa'ad district. Luckily, the security powers managed to uncover the crime and the perpetrator was arrested.

According to information obtained by "Khuyut", all the perpetrators of the aforementioned killings cases could not escape from the security, and were arrested, but their final fate remains unknown, and no information has been officially released about them.

Despite the cold-blooded crimes of violence committed against the three wives, which reached to murder and mutilation, they did not go beyond the scope of the governorate, and did not receive any mass media advocacy, like other cases of violence or killing in another governorate, in order to practice social pressure on the competent authorities to speed up the necessary legal measures and achieve legal redress for the victims as soon as possible, as these are public opinion cases.

Robbed women's rights

The methods of deprivation and robbing of the rights of girls and women are still practiced against them by the masculine authority, as they are subjected to the cruelty of deliberate deprivation of any rights guaranteed by the law and the Yemeni constitution. However, the authority of robbery along with the social customs were and still strongly prevalent in many districts and villages of Al-Mahweet Governorate.

In context, one of the teachers, who asked not to be named; in order not to be harmed - by telling Khuyut that girls and women in Al-Mahweet, especially in the rural areas, are deliberately and intentionally deprived of most of their rights guaranteed by the Sharia and the law.

She adds that "most, if not all, of the women did not obtain their right to inheritance, and fear forces them not to speak out and demand that right, which makes them remain silent. Likewise, "the female employees cannot fully dispose of their salaries, and most of them are forced to give the father half of the monthly salary; this was at the time of salaries, but today, there are no salaries."

In addition, "Khuyut" learned that there are large numbers of girls who are denied their right to education, even at the secondary level, under flimsy pretexts and arguments, all of which lead to "the girl's future is in her husband's house." This means that the practice of these beliefs by society, especially in the countryside, leads to the reinforcement of girls’ violation and deprivation of another right, which is the right to childhood, which is replaced by an arranged marriage for them, without their awareness of the requirements and responsibilities of that marriage, which in turn exacerbates many In the list of underage marriage, which is a phenomenon that leads to ending their lives or psychological and physical suffering, its effects continue throughout the life of the female, and it cannot be healed easily.

Exhausted bodies

The economic impact of the war’s consequences on the family’s living situation has become more and worse paid by women, as a result of their exposure to many health, physical and psychological risks, in addition to adding other family burdens and responsibilities to them, which also exacerbated their situation to the worst.

As the health situation experienced by women in Al-Mahweet, according to many medical testimonies, which confirmed to "Khuyut", is very worrying, as a result of many risks, most of which are death during delivery or after childbirth, or exposure to eclampsia. As all the aforementioned risks, according to doctors, are due to overlapping causes, most of which have recently been aggravated by the war. The most important and worst of these reasons is the lack or scarcity of food and water security, which causes large numbers of women to suffer from acute and moderate malnutrition, and other epidemic diseases, such as cholera, malaria, and other chronic diseases, resulting from war conditions, or that have multiplied due to poverty and the inability to pay for the medical care or drugs.

In addition, the economic crisis and deteriorating living conditions that accompanied the war prompted many males to migrate to other areas and cities for long periods, in search of a job that would enable him, at least, to buy his family's basic needs. This in itself led to doubling the burdens on women and girls, as the agricultural work that used to be done by males before the war has now become the responsibility of women, in addition to their other tasks and responsibilities. This causes women to exert additional efforts than she can, which in itself is a factor of exhaustion and total tiredness for women, on the psychological and physical aspects.

In conclusion, between that dark suffering and the multiple forms of violence that women face, including stereotypes and outdated beliefs that stare at them, it does not seem on the horizon that all of this will come to end easily, or at least mitigate its most horrible aspects. Especially since women in the same governorate, compared to others in other governorates, do not receive any attention from human rights organizations and activities that are now thriving everywhere with their human rights and economic empowerment activities, which seek to combat gender-based violence that affects women. Furthermore, the media means remained silent and let women issues down, and the vocal voices advocating for their issues are dimmed. Thus, another key reason for that marginalization, which leads to disastrous results and exacerbates injustice against women.

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