Portrait photo of Fatima

Determined woman: breadwinning in displacement

It is typical for construction or farm workers in Yemen to earn a daily wage. But what if a woman was offered far less than what the average man earns, and had no other choice? Out of a job and shouldering the responsibility of feeding her family, Fatima Mohammed thought it was better than nothing.

Fatima, now in her 50s, was forced to flee in 2017 when the brutal conflict in Yemen reached her home in Hodeidah governorate. Taking her daughter with her, she headed to Abyan’s Khanfar district in the far south. Using wooden panels for frames and banana leaves for walls, she built makeshift shelters with other displaced families.

“I have six sons, but they’re all married and have their own homes,” she says. “I'm the breadwinner for myself and my daughter. It's hard to find aid these days, and so I have to work.”

Fatima began by working on banana farms some 3km away from her shelter. It was the best solution she could find.

“I walk 6km each day, back and forth, and earn 1,000 Yemeni rials [less than USD 1] a day. It barely covers food and basic necessities,” she explains.

The long walks and working hours are exhausting, but for Fatima, who prefers having a job to receiving handouts, it is worth it.

“We use banana leaves for firewood and fences. This is our life now, after fleeing our Hodeidah home,” she says.

Fatima holding a banana leaf against her shelter, which is made entirely out of the same leaves.
Fatima uses banana leaves to fence her home. Photo: Nasser Abdulkareem/NRC

Fatima and other families in the camp lack latrines and instead use the outdoors. Most are unemployed or earn too little to afford building a private latrine.

“I can barely afford food, let alone a [private] latrine. We’ve suffered using the outdoors,” she recalls. “As women, we sometimes can’t go for days, and have to wait until nightfall.”

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), supported by the Yemen Humanitarian Fund (YHF), intervened in Abyan governorate. Together, we provided cash assistance to 181 families, including Fatima’s, to support them in building latrines.

“The latrines solved a major problem. We can use them anytime, reducing our psychological suffering. Nobody can imagine how much we suffered before,” says Fatima.

Life for Fatima is better now, and she can provide for herself and her daughter. But her heart still yearns for home.

"If we were all back home, my sons would be around, and they wouldn't let me be alone. But displacement is difficult for everyone."

Fatima stands by her latrine, which is made out of metal sheets. There are trees in the background.
NRC helped Fatima’s family build a private latrine. Photo: Nasser Abdulkareem/NRC

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