Female empowerment through voluntary work in the health sector!
By Dr. Najwa Y. Al-Dheeb
MBBS, PGDip CM, DLSHTM, MPH
Health system in Yemen has been facing many challenges in the last decade along with the complex emergency situation that includes widespread conflict-driven displacement and a slow-onset crisis in food security, malnutrition and outbreak of communicable diseases particularly in neglected areas. Furthermore, the political unrest, in some instances involving high levels of violence, has severely disrupted the delivery of basic health services, exacerbating widespread and chronic vulnerabilities, weak economic growth, a growing trade deficit and an unstable national currency that have exposed the population to rising global food and fuel prices. The delay in the political settlement Yemen is currently facing could trigger further conflict across the country which could only deepen the humanitarian crisis and the lack of livelihood opportunities. The civil unrest has crippled the economy severely and it is expected to lower the GDP further, many foreign companies left the country with the increase burden of unemployment. Women already face various constraints in entering the job market due to job segregation, their needs for flexibility and family responsibilities. Women are less active in society mainly in the job market, although the Yemeni constitution gives men and women equal right to participate in the political, cultural and socio-economic life. I strongly believe in community participation- especially women's participation through voluntary work- in order to achieve any of the Millennium Development Goals making changes at the population level. Interventions that targets women within the community to be trained and be active in their respective communities are proved to show more impact. I personally worked in a field level raising the communities' perception about female's role in the community and the importance of women empowerment through various means. I was told by many that men in Yemen are restrictive and they will not allow their wives or daughters to travel from villages to Sana'a for training and the fact that they are stubborn and would not accept females' outdoor activities. I have to admit that it was a difficult concept to deliver to some people; however, it is a big transformation to have parents and husbands changing their views from total refusal of females' involvement within the community and any kind of outdoor activity into asking me to enroll their daughters to be trained and become a community health volunteer. I had to sit a choosing criterion as I had a huge turnout of females after the sensitization and advocacy meeting conducted at the community level. This was a clear message that the community does not refuse women's involvement, they just need to be sensitized and acknowledged and we need to advocate toward the idea. Last but not least, with high levels of diseases prevailing, community health volunteers could be trained on preventive measures and how to conduct awareness session within their community. Thus, we build the capacity of the volunteer and her social status within the community, improve the awareness level at the community level, and establish a referral system between the community and the health facility. On the other hand, governorate and district health office could target them in several outreach activities of primary health care. Economic stability could be reached through incentives and opportunities created through her voluntary work and the experience she would gain. Community health volunteers have priority when it comes to public employment which was emphasized yesterday by the governor in the local health council meeting. Therefore, voluntary work at the community level could be the window through which female could be economically empowered.