The upper entrance of the Women’s Market in Mukalla, September 28 (South24 Center)

The Historic Women’s Market in Mukalla is Struggling to Survive


Wed, 01-11-2023 01:26 PM, Aden

’The market will remain resilient and overcome the current crisis like it had done decades ago.’

Abdullah Al-Shadli (South24) 

The Women's Market in the city of Mukalla in Hadramout is one of the oldest popular markets in South Yemen. The market offers products that aim to meet the needs of all Hadrami women. The buildings are of a distinctive architectural style that dates back to the ’Qu'aiti Sultanate‘ in Hadramout at the beginning of the last century.

The market is located at the meeting point of three main neighborhoods in Mukalla, including Al-Hara, Al-Bilad and Al-Salam. When you enter it for the first time, you feel it pulsating with life and activity. The market’s narrow alleys are known for their popular mud buildings which reflect the simple life of Mukalla’s people in that era. The market is still part and parcel of Mukalla’s culture and history as well as the daily life of Hadrami women.

The Women’s Market in Mukalla, September 28 (South24 Center)

The market extends over 500 m from Sultan Omar Mosque to Bazarah Mosque, and consists of some stores, small shops and stalls (kiosks).

Many women work at the market such as ’Barakah‘, an elderly Hadrami woman who sells cheap imitation jewelry as well as Islamic rosaries. ’Barakah‘ told ’South24 Center‘ that she was born around the time the market opened in the 1950s.

“Barakah” who sells imitation jewelry in the Women’s Market in Mukalla, October 25 (South24 Center)

’Barakah‘ complained about the decline in women’s interest in the market. She said: “My old age and poor health make it difficult for me to come here daily. My earnings aren't worth my suffering many times.”

Fashion mannequins for presenting female costumes, September 28 (South24 Center)


The market serves as a hub for traditional goods, handicrafts and various commodities including the following items:

- Jewelry including gold and silver.
- Handicrafts.
- Cosmetics.
- Traditional costumes for women and children, such as the Bedouin dresses.

A popular stall selling gum, henna, turmeric and other commodities in the Women’s Market in Mukalla, September 28, 2023 (South24 Center)

- Toys and antiques.
- Traditional censers made of clay, and incense.
- Bedouin and civil gum as well as frankincense.
- Turmeric, henna and otostegia (herbal material similar to henna used for cosmetics purposes such as facial masks).
- Eelgrass 
- Eyeliner.
- Myrrh.
- Nuts and colocynth.
- Kuphars (used to preserve food), brooms and traditional tablecloths.

A popular stall selling gum, henna, turmeric and other commodities in the Women’s Market in Mukalla, September 28, 2023 (South24 Center)

Market hit by Recession

Sadly, business in the Women’s Market has been negatively affected by the war that broke out more than eight years ago and had a devastating economic impact on the people. The recession has pushed several jewelers to close their shops to escape the burden of high rent that exceeds their financial capabilities. 

Om Mohammed, a street vendor in the market and a mother of three, is suffering due to the economic downturn. She sells locally-made domestic pots and other goods. She took to this work some years ago after the death of her husband.

Om Mohammed’s stall in the Women’s Market, Mukalla, October 25, 2023 (South24 Center)

She told ’South24 Center‘: “My day begins early in the morning. This stall is my only asset, which I stock with household goods and products for women. There is currently good demand for brooms made of palm leaves as well as censers. This is part of our Hadrami heritage.”

She added: “I feel frustrated because of the decreasing number of women who come to the market. It seems that people prefer the big shopping centers instead of small markets.”

On the opposite side, there is Om Moustafa who has her own stall. She said she is ready to engage in partnership with Om Mohammed to own a store or a small shop.

However, Om Mohammed feels that such a partnership would negatively affect her old friendship with Om Moustafa. In a smiling tone, the latter used the old proverb “the meat of the partnership is raw”, implying that a business partnership could impact personal relationships.
Om Moustafa’s stall, the Women’s Market, Mukalla, October 25, 2023 (South24 Center)

Customer Samar Bazinbor said: “The traditional souvenirs such as dishes made of palm leaves as well as censers are valued only by those who are interested in heritage.” She buys these products and ships them to families abroad for a profit to help her complete her education. 

Some vendors in the market are obliged to offer discounts, even up to 50%, in an attempt to attract business. Jeweler Khaled Bagerfan told “South24 Center: “The buying and selling momentum is witnessing its worst rate ever. Many merchants have shut their shops after their losses exceeded their profits.”

He explained: “Jewelers who now manage to sell 20 gm per week are lucky. In the past, the average sale was 50 gm per week”.

Some female customers in the Women’s Market, Mukalla, October 25 (South24 Center)

On the other hand, some small local traders resort to showcasing their products on the pavement to avoid the high rents of a shop. They also offer their products at a lower price. 

A store offering discounts of up to 50% in the Women’s Market, Mukalla, September 28, 2023 (South24 Center)

Vendor Hussein Al-Shabami believes that the decline in business activities is due to the current conditions in the country and the lack of financial liquidity which is pushing people to save their money in case faced with any sudden crisis. 

Braving the odds, some merchants, owners of small shops and street vendors are continuing with their struggle to survive. One of them said that “the market will remain resilient and overcome the current crisis like it had done decades ago”.

Journalist at South24 Center for News and Studies

Note: This is a translated version of the original text written in Arabic

South YemenMukallaHadramoutWomen MarketShoppingFashionJewelry