Pune - In recent times, women have fought through gigantic obstacles to be treated as equals alongside men. Over the last quarter century, widespread inequalities gained more attention at universities and workplaces as well as in the home.
Pune – In recent times, women have fought through gigantic obstacles to be treated as equals alongside men. Over the last quarter century, widespread inequalities gained more attention at universities and workplaces as well as in the home.
Since then, the status of women has significantly improved in many respects throughout the world. In most rich or developing countries, girls and women have become more educated, live longer and have access to better jobs. But strong inequalities remain. The risk mortality rate is higher in many low- and middle-income countries. Women earn less and are less productive almost everywhere in the world and have no opportunity to decide their fate.
According to the World Bank’s 2012 report on gender equality and development, the elimination of disparities is important for the development and evolution of society. More equality can boost productivity, improve youth development and make institutions and policies more representative.
Many inequalities remain even as countries develop, and with calls to authorities for sustained and precise action, corrective policies will have more impact on development and will target the greatest inequalities. To be effective, they must tackle the root causes of inequalities without the abstraction of political economy.
In Yemen, discrimination and violence against women are endemic and have destructive consequences. Women’s rights are regularly bounded due to Yemeni tribal practices and a deaf legislature. Yemeni customs have classified women as a lower rank in society and made them an easy target for discrimination.
Yemeni women are not free to marry whomever they want. Some of these girls are still children — possibly as young as 9 years old — when they are forced to marry. When a woman is forced into marriage so young, she must follow her husband’s orders and even ask for his permission for every little thing including leaving the house.
Even before a judge, the testimony of a woman is worth half as much as that of a man. The allowance paid to the family of a murder victim varies the same way depending on the gender of the victim. Inequality of treatment also extends to inheritance, where women often find themselves deprived of all the right to succession.
Women accused of “immoral” acts are punished more severely than men, and the latter are entitled to indulgences when they kill women from their family for questions of “honor.” These laws and practices are purely discriminatory and encourage violence against women. Unfortunately, they remain common practice within families and the whole of society.
However, women’s rights have recorded some progress over the years. For example, in 1996 Yemen saw the establishment of the Women’s National Committee, a government-backed empowerment organization.
In addition, the government maintains a dialogue with intergovernmental organizations and reports to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
In Yemen, the marriage of underage woman is a common practice; the girls are generally younger than the boys when they are married. Many of them must leave their schools. They are likely to become pregnant and give birth very young, putting their health and that of their child in danger. Deprived of complete schooling, they become completely dependent on their husbands both financially and socially.
Local NGOs told Amnesty International that girls are often forced to marry men that are much older than them, especially girls who are still attending school. These marriages are frequently accompanied by domestic violence.
Parents living in disadvantaged conditions in rural areas often marry their daughters when they are young because they see them as a burden to the household. The wedding is accompanied by a dowry, or mahar, intended for the bride, but often taken entirely or in part by the father.
In addition, we often see that weddings are a means of protecting the “honor” of the family: girls cannot be suspected of “immoral” behavior, and their virginity on the day of wedding must be guaranteed. There are no reliable statistics on underage marriage in Yemen, because Births and marriages in rural areas are not generally subject to systematic registration.
Originally, Section 15 of the Personal Status Law prohibited the marriage of girls under 15. However, this provision was amended in Act No. 24 of 1999 which abolishes the age limit provided that the guardian consents to the marriage and the daughter has reached the age of puberty,
The attention sparked by the young Nujood Ali and other cases of underage marriage have given the movement against this practice new impetus. A campaign led by the Women’s National Committee and certain NGOs pushes for the legal age to be increased to 18. In February 2009, a law was passed by the parliament in an attempt to get the legal age of marriage raised to 17, but it cannot be enforced because the president has not ratified it.
The government initially tried endorsing a new age limit of 17 and modifying Article 15 of the Personal Status Law in Yemen. However, the Shariah Committee in parliament has opposed this modification, and as of August 2011 ratification by parliament is still pending.
Nadya Khalife, women’s rights researcher for the Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch, told OnIslam that “Yemen’s political crisis has left issues such as child marriage at the bottom of the political priority list.” She added that “Now is the time to move on this issue, setting the minimum age for marriage at 18, to ensure that girls and women who played a major role in Yemen’s protest movement will also contribute to shaping Yemen’s future.”
Holistically speaking, Yemen has finally realized that there is a correlation between these customs and the social norms, making it very important to protection of these demographics that are at risk early on from the prospect of a lifetime of abuse.
However, such an approach demands that the health, education and justice systems are adequately resourced financially, that each actor knows their role in ensuring the law is effectively implemented and that girls are properly educated about their rights.
In Yemen, there exists absolutely no law that prohibits gender-based violence. We all know rape is a crime, which is the case under Yemeni law, but marital rape is not considered rape. It falls under domestic violence. When it comes to “honor killings,” the judicial branch is quite lenient towards men, which makes such crimes more widespread. The penal code also includes other discriminatory provisions: Article 273 criminalizes “shameful” or “immoral” acts. This law makes women vulnerable to arrest for acts such as being alone with a man who is not her relative.
Female genital mutilation
This is quite scandalous in societies in the 21st century. Yemen holds the second position in the Middle East for the highest percentage of female genital mutilation. There exists no law against female genital mutilation in Yemen. It is still a practice carried on by most traditional families.
A ministerial decree prohibits female genital mutilation to be carried out in health facilities. According to 1997 Demographic and Health Survey statistics, 23 percent of women aged 15-49 have undergone this form of mutilation. The practice is most common in the coastal region where it is prevalent at 69 percent for the same demographic. This is a deeply rooted tradition in Yemen; the idea behind it is limiting a girl’s pleasure from a young age. There is a perception of physical pleasure for a woman as shameful or a question of honor, so they seek to limit it from a young age.
Women’s political participation
There have been efforts to include women within the judicial system, including the enrollment of women in the judicial institute to later become judges. Since 1990s, there have been 34 female judges, with men holding eight times as many positions. According to the 2007 State party CEDAW report, there are 32 female judges, compared to 1200 male judges. A 2007 shadow report for CEDAW notes, however, that these women all became judges in South Yemen, before the unification in 1990.
When Yemen was divided into North and South Yemen the systems differed. North Yemeni women won the right to vote in 1983 whereas South Yemeni women gained it by 1970s. Although in legal documents men and women share equal rights, it is not yet effective in practice. Women have little to no say in politics, let alone the idea of holding a political position. There is only one woman out of 301 seats in the lower house of parliament and two in the upper house’s 111 seats, according to CEDAW reports.
A 2003 country report argued that spousal abuse is rarely reported to police, though it is common, due to the social norm of a male relative being the one to report to in such incidents. He is believed to provide protection.
However, women victims of violence tend not to report such incidents because they are scared that the attacker will come after them. According to an article in the Yemen Times, even doctors rarely report cases of assault. Assaults reported to the police rarely receive priority attention, especially when the assailant is a family member.
A psychology professor at Sana’a University conducted a study in 1999 on police responses to assaults against women. The professor found that some policemen were incompetent and neglectful, while others continued to assault the victim sexually instead of protecting her. The professor felt that the absence of legislative measures on spousal violence left too much to the discretion of the police.
According to a report by Yemen’s Supreme Council for Women’s Affairs, protection and security services for women victims of violence in Yemen were “inadequate and inappropriate.” A 2003 United Nations report adopted a similar position arguing that measures to combat spousal abuse were inadequate and that the state should offer better protection to victims.
According to the 2003 U.S. Country Report on Yemen, there are few shelters for abused women, and hotlines for victims only existed in Aden and Sanaa. However, the source does not mention whether the government or an NGO offers these services. In its 2003 report, Amnesty International reported that Yemen had a very active women’s movement, which has been seen during protests.
Current Status of Women
According to Amnesty International’s 2003 report, Yemen did not sign the optional protocol of CEDAW. The situation of Yemeni women is even worse than before the uprising against President Ali Abdullah Saleh because of the worsening humanitarian crisis, Oxfam warned. “Four out of five women say their situation has deteriorated in the last 12 months,” the British organization said in a report, which was the fruit of meetings with a range of women across the country.
“Although the transition to democracy is underway, women’s hopes for a better life are dwindling,” the Oxfam report said, adding, “The humanitarian crisis and the worsening conflict limits the role of women in the development of the future of Yemen.”
According to the text, “the humanitarian crisis exacerbates gender inequalities,” and one-quarter of Yemeni women aged 15-49 say that “access to food, employment and security” is at the top of their list of needs. Women use “desperate and destructive means” to feed their families, reducing “their own consumption and nutrient intake,” the report says.
In some extreme cases, women have even been forced into prostitution, according to Oxfam.
The organization stresses that the unrest and persistent insecurity in the country “exposes women to violence and puts their security at risk.” Oxfam is calling on donors to “immediately allocate” funds promised to Yemen on the brink of economic collapse. Yemen received $6.4 billion in aid pledges at a donors’ conference in Riyadh, though it claimed almost twice as much. This amount includes $4 billion in pledges announced at the Friends of Yemen club meeting held in late May in Riyadh, with $3.25 billion coming from Saudi Arabia.
Yemen has undergone numerous changes in terms of gender equality. It has tried to replace some of its laws and amend others. It has allowed NGOs to assist in dealing with this matter. However, it still has a long way to go because, until attitudes change, the same thing will occur and the misrepresentation and mistreatment of women will persist.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent any institution or entity.
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