Supporting female scientists in Yemen

Elsevier, The Lancet, Volume 393, Issue 10171, 9–15 February 2019, Pages 526-527.
Fathiah Zakham and Katia Jaton

The contribution of Yemeni women to shaping the history and civilisation of ancient Arabia is well documented in the historical literature and the divine books of all the Abrahamic religions. The Sabaean Kingdom, which represents one of the oldest civilisations in South Arabia (modern day Yemen), was ruled by a powerful female monarch (Queen Sheba) who travelled to Jerusalem to meet with King Solmon and test his wisdom.

The Sabean scriptures reveal societies in which women played major parts in trade, government, and all aspects of life. In the Islamic era, Arwa Al-Sulayhi was the first Muslim queen in the Arabian Peninsula and she built different schools, improved the economy, and supported agriculture in Yemen.

Despite the outstanding historical achievements of women in Yemen, the reality of today reflects a very sad image about their situation. According to the latest report on gender equality published by the World Economic Forum, Yemen is ranked last in the global gender gap index (149/149) and has only managed to close less than 68% of its gender gap. Today, Yemeni women are still underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and face particular challenges because of their societies' cultures and institutional rules. Yemen has not achieved gender parity in primary education and the gender gap substantially expands at higher levels of education. Early marriage and familial commitments are the main obstacles that present to women and girls in Yemen. Stereotyping, prejudices, and gender-based violence are also important issues that remain to be addressed.