Fatima (name changed) is a baker in Yemen. She talks about the particular challenges for women within Yemini society, and her route to building a successful business.
Some details in this article have been changed to preserve anonymity.
This article contains descriptions of violence.
How did underage marriage affect your early life and education?
School was my world until I was 14 years old. Then, my father deprived me of education when he decided I would get married. I could not refuse. I became a bride against my will, in an 'exchange' marriage. This meant that my father married my sister-in-law, and I married my husband without a dowry.
By twenty years old, I was a mother of four, but without knowledge of how to run a household and no one to ask for advice on how to care for my health. My husband was similar to others in our society that encouraged under-aged childbearing.
How did financial instability affect you and your family?
My husband was financially well-established. We lived in prosperity and had a beautiful house where we lived a luxurious life. Over time, however, my husband suffered severe setbacks in his trade and lost a huge amount of money. The resulting debt led to prison time for him.
Not long after, soldiers broke into our home. We did not understand what was happening, especially when they told us to evacuate the house. I will never forget my teenage son’s attempt to expel the soldiers. One of the soldiers beat him and threatened him with a weapon. We weren't even allowed to take our clothes when we left the house.
I took the children and went to live with my parents, who supported us and gave us a small place to live. Despite their help, I became depressed and anxious about the future. After some time, my husband got out of prison, but our situation also resulted in his depression.
When did you initially find a way to use your skills and experiences to improve your situation?
A friend told me about a women's programme that supported people in situations like mine to gain financial independence, which I agreed to join.
The Springboard programme helped me to set goals for myself and choose my own direction in life. Connecting with other women in a similar situation to myself helped to heal my old wounds and turn them into valuable experiences. It was at that point that I started making decisions for myself for the first time in my life, no matter how small they seemed.
What practical steps did you take toward starting your business?
My first decision after the programme was to get an identity card, which later became symbolic to me. It gave me confidence that I am a citizen and I have rights as well as duties.
My next move was to take steps to manage my depression. I made an effort to reach out and connect with other women, both within the programme and in my general life. I now have friends from all age groups, and in other provinces too.
What is an average day like now that you run a successful business?
I wake up at 3.00 am every day to prepare the pastry dough for the dumplings I make and sell. I say my prayers, and then continue to prepare pastries until 6.00 am. After that I do the usual house chores. The afternoon is a little more relaxed, but full of similar work. It's also important to find time for things you love, such as going out to visit parents or friends, or reading.
What plans have you made for your future?
I want to keep expanding my pastry business, be it industrial training courses, or learning more about marketing and finance. If the project grows, I can get bigger orders that will result in a higher level of income, and I can provide jobs for my children within the business.
Slowly, I have become more confident and proud, and more aware of my rights. This fresh chapter of my life is one made of my own will and design. We've moved into a new house that can accommodate our big family. Perhaps one day I will be able to open my own bakery. I am happy and proud to say I've done it all myself.
To all women like me, you must secure your role and your importance in society, and you must stand strong against difficult circumstances, and claim your rights in all areas. Don't be afraid to live with dignity.
Springboard is a British Council self-development programme that provides personal and work development opportunities for women in the Middle East and North Africa, challenging public perceptions of women's roles and contributions to societies.
International Women's Day is 8 March. The United Nations' theme for 2018 is 'Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives'.