Yemen: Women's Rights Must Be Front and Center

March 9, 2012

Women have played a big role in the Yemen protests, a fact the Nobel committee recognized when it awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize to Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman, one of three women to jointly receive the award last October.

Yet, despite their contributions, Yemen’s women activists have been harassed, arrested, and in some cases beaten for their participation in protests. Some have also been threatened through their families, with male relatives ordered to control and curtail their activism.

As Yemen enters a delicate transition phase toward democracy, the government must address longstanding violations of women’s human right. Women in Yemen face systemic discrimination and pervasive violence. Their rights are routinely violated because Yemeni laws, as well as tribal and customary practices, treat women as second-class citizens. Women face discrimination in matters of marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody, and the state fails to take adequate measures to prevent, investigate, and punish domestic violence.

 As Amnesty International has documented, discrimination and violence against women are part of law and culture in Yemen. Discrimination against women in legislation is reflected in family law, the exercise of male authority, and the lack of respect for women’s personal integrity. In Yemen, women are not free to marry whom they want. Some are forced to marry when they are children, sometimes as young as eight. Once married, a woman must obey her husband and obtain his permission to leave the house.

Women are also valued at half the worth of men when they testify in court or when their families are compensated if they are murdered. They are denied equal treatment when it comes to inheritance — or denied inheritance completely. Authorities deal with women more harshly than men when accused of “immoral acts,” and men are treated leniently when they murder female relatives in “honor killings.”

Such discriminatory laws and practices encourage and facilitate violence against women, which is rife in the home and in society at large. Women in Yemen have contributed a great deal toward creating a vibrant civil society. Yet while women’s non-governmental organizations have achieved some success in campaigns for reform, more reforms are still urgently needed.

Help ensure human rights for all people by demanding that women’s rights are a priority in Yemen. To get involved, learn more about our work in Yemen and our women’s rights work, and join our Women’s Human Rights Network on Facebook.