Dignity Kits: Helping Displaced Yemeni Women Move About Freely

Having culturally appropriate clothing makes it easier for displaced Yemeni girls and women to move freely around the IDP camps. Photo UNDP/Yemen
  • 20 April 2010

SA’ADA, Yemen --- “We suffered a lot before reaching this camp,” recalls Khadija, 25, who has been affected by years of conflict in northern Yemen. “When I reached here I just had one dress. I had to wear it repetitively for three months. I was not able to wash it. I could not move confidently inside the camp.”

Yemen has suffered from internal conflicts and clashes for several years, resulting in a large number of internally displaced people (IDPs) around the country. The internal security threats include a conflict in the north of the country, a secessionist movement in the south and the threat posed by terrorist elements.

The Sada’a governorate has witnessed six wars since 2004. The war that began in 2009 has been the most brutal. Since the beginning of uprisings in Yemen this year, an anti-government group, Al-Houthis, has managed to take over Sada’a and take control of the main city.

However, due to the presence of landmines and the uncertainty that prevails in the region, IDPs are still scared to return home. Some consider the camps as their only home as their houses and properties back in Sada’a have been demolished during the conflict.

Women are the most vulnerable and make up the majority of the 110,000 people displaced by this conflict. Most of them had to flee in a rush, leaving everything behind, including clothes.

In Yemen, a strict dress code for women must be observed to ensure participation in public activities. Without this dress code, women cannot leave their homes to seek life saving services. Many women have one or two abayas that are worn every day. Improper clothing limits or even forbids their freedom of movement, while the inability to change their clothes or properly wash the only abaya many women possess can directly lead to a high prevalence of skin diseases and infections.

UNFPA was the first to intervene on this issue in IDP camps, distributing 15,000 dignity kits in different locations. The kits include clothing items for women, such as abayas and scarves, as well as some hygiene products (sanitary napkins, antibacterial soap, underwear, etc.). Appropriate clothing will ensure the mobility of women and girls, which will enable them to access life saving services for themselves and their families, including reproductive health services, water and food.

Khadija agreed that the kit made her life more comfortable in the camp. “Now I can change and wash my clothes. I freely move inside as well as outside the camp with confidence,” she says.

UNFPA also provides psychosocial support to help women and girls overcome traumas and stress due to displacement. The project has established women committees in the camps to facilitate women’s access to services.

Moreover, UNFPA raises awareness among IDPs about gender issues, such as child marriage and domestic violence. Through theatrical plays as well as lectures given by respected religious leaders, messages against violence and women’s rights are communicated.

Due to the success of these initiatives, UNFPA plans to increase its support to the IDP women and girls. There are currently 11,000 dignity kits being prepared to be soon distributed in Sa’ada.

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