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Yemen, which is a relatively young republic, has its name derived from Yahman, the son of Qahtan. Others, however, contend that the name of the country is taken from the Arabic word Ymn, which means right. This is mostly due to the proximity of Yemen to the right of the Mecca sanctuary in Kaaba. Yemen was formally established in 1990, after the unification of northern Yemen by the Communist Southern Yemen (Tobi, 1994). It was after decades of civil unrest and conflict. In reality, four years later, after the nation had been established, there was a possibility of secession from the Southern Communists. But their threat was ultimately overcome. The country occupies the south part of the Arabian Peninsula.
Due to its location in the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula, the dominant religion in the country is Islam. This can be attributed to the fact that majority of the neighboring countries are of Arabian descents which practice Islam. The Sunnis Muslims are the majority followed by some sections of Shia Muslims (Tobi, 1994). There are a few Christians and Jews. As a result of Yemen being in an “Islam” territory, the architecture of Yemen has been significantly influenced by this. Most of the houses in Yemen follow the Islam architecture. This is because most of the homes originate from Islam pre fortified towers and fortress. However, it is worth noting in the Northern Tihama area, Timber and straw are predominantly used in construction. In the town centers, there is the use of shell lime, in the mountainous central regions hewn stone is used and in the deserts are made from sun-dried clay and bricks. As a result of this and owing to the Islam affiliation most of the public open spaces are often used for men's meetings in the afternoon.
People in the southern region of Yemen, which borders the Red Sea, are traders. Folks in the central mountainous region due to the high amount of rainfall in the area practice farming. The northern part, because it is a desert is associated with semi-nomads. These geographical have influences in the cultural behavior of the people residing in the places (Tobi, 1994). For instance, in the north, the food commonly eaten is rice with meat from the goats and the sheep. As we have shown above, the choice to be either a trader or agriculturalist is affected by one's location. Due to its location along the trade route of the Arabian Peninsula, trade was more dominant in the region. However, in general, most of the people in Yemen are Traders and sedentary agriculturalists Notably, Yemen became known for its local coffee Mukha which is popularly known as mocha. To date, the coffee is seen as a symbol of the national unity. Coffee is ingrained in the culture of the Yemenis such that guests have to be served coffee whenever they visit.
Lastly, due to the country's position in the southern part of the Arabian peninsula, you find that the nation has heavily borrowed traditions from the neighboring countries, For instance, dressing in Yemen shares greater similarity with those of the northern Africa Arabian countries. Also, just like most of the neighboring countries sharia laws are widely practiced in Yemen. Consequently, the society in Yemen is patriarchal. Generally, from the above, we can see how the location of Yemen has influenced the culture and traditions in Yemen (Tobi, 1994). Due to its position in the Arabian Peninsula, we have noted that the dominant religion is Islam. This has impacted the mode of dressing, food, architecture et al.Also due to its location on a trade route; we see the southern Yemenis are renowned for their trading skills particularly with their local coffee, Mukha. Again, we have seen how people in Yemen engage in different economic practices due to their location. As earlier said, the southerners are traders, the northerners are semi-nomads, and those in the central region are farmers.
The 1994 Yemen constitution states that women are men's sisters and have gotten rights and duties defined by Sharia and secular laws. However being a patriarchal society with strict adherence to the sharia laws, women tend to be marginalized. Women position in the community is seen to be in the kitchen and their homes taking care of their families. However, on the other hand, men are seen as the leaders and financial providers of their homes. This is vividly demonstrated by the fact that in 2013 only 0.7% of Women in Yemen were in parliament. Also, only 7.6% of women in Yemen aged 25 years and above are educated (“UNICEF,” 1993). Again just 25 % of the more entire women population in Yemen makes the labor force (Tobi, 1994). As earlier said Yemen is made of a patriarchal society and thus women tend to be disadvantaged.
The low literacy levels and percentage of the workforce can be explained by the fact that most women drop out from schools to be married. This is ingrained in their culture to the extent that a woman can only raise her status in the society by giving birth to a baby boy and not a girl. Besides the birth of the baby boy is marked with celebrations and the mother being given gifts which are not the case for a baby girl (“UNICEF,” 1993). The Yemeni government has tried to address this by the formation of Women's development strategy and the Women health development strategy to promote the roles and rights of women in the society. However, this has not materialized. This is because of inadequate enforcement of the laws by the Yemeni government.
In Yemen, religion is widely accepted by the society. This can be attributed to the fact that the country has sharia laws in place. Besides the society in Yemen is patriarchal which is similar to what is advocated by the religion of Islam. As a result of this, the women in the society have their roles reduced. The place of the women in the Yemeni society is in the home. The low number of women in employment and parliament can show this (Al-Suwaydi, Jamal, 1995). So serious is this issue to the extent that even in the courts; where two women witnesses are equivalent to one-man witness. Besides the birth of a baby boy is coupled with much celebration compared to the birth of a baby girl. Due to the influence of the Islam religion in Yemen, you tend to find that the role of women in Yemeni society is reduced. Women perform auxiliary roles to the men.
The western media tends to stereotype the Yemeni nationalities just like it’s the case with many Arabian countries. The residents are portrayed as barbarians and uncivilized. Take for instance the movie Salmon Fishing in Yemen where the Yemeni people are represented as uneducated and uncivilized. To some extent, this is true although not to the lengths that are shown by the media. Perhaps the movie which best describes the Yemeni people is I am Nojom, Age 10 and divorced. The film showed the misogynistic nature of the Yemeni society. This has also been shown where if the media wants to portray another leader as weak, he is depicted as a woman (Tobi, 1994). Ousted president Saleh had images of him in makeup and wigs perhaps to demean him. Ethnocentricism is an evaluation of another culture based on one's culture. Generally, like most of the Arabian countries, the level of ethnocentrism in Yemen is high. As earlier said they are portrayed as uncivilized and uneducated. On the other hand, the Yemeni view the western society as perpetrators of evil in the society.
In conclusion, we have seen how the social and economic activities have been influenced by the geographical location of the Yemen. Due to its position in the Arabian Peninsula, we have shown the dominant religion to be Islam, which has had influences on the Yemeni society. Also, we have demonstrated the role of the religion in Yemen in influencing women perception in the society.
Al-Suwaydi, Jamal, Ed. The Yemeni War of 1994. Causes and Consequences, 1995.
Tobi, Jacob. West of Aden: A Survey of the Aden Jewish Community, 1994.
UNICEF. The Situation of Women and Children in the Republic of Yemen 1992, 1993.
Yemen Filmography." Yemen Update (Bulletin of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies) 40: 29–31, 1998.
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