Women in Yemen

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Women in Yemen
Yemeni doctor.jpg
A female Yemeni doctor examines an infant
Gender Inequality Index[1]
Value 0.733 (2013)
Rank 152nd out of 152
Maternal mortality (per 100,000) 200 (2010)
Women in parliament 0.7% (2013)
Females over 25 with secondary education 7.6% (2012)
Women in labour force 25.2% (2012)
Global Gender Gap Index[2]
Value 0.5128 (2013)
Rank 136th out of 136

Women in Yemen have historically had much less power in society than men.

Although the government of Yemen has made efforts that will improve the rights of women in Yemen (including the formation of a Women's Development Strategy and a Women Health Development Strategy),[3] many cultural and religious norms, along with poor enforcement of this legislation from the Yemeni government, have prevented Yemeni women from having equal rights to men.

In 2016 Yemeni women do not hold many economic, social or cultural rights. While suffrage was gained in 1967 and constitutional and legal protection was extended to women during the first years of Yemen unity between 1990–1994, they continue to struggle “in exercising their full political and civil rights”.[4] History shows that women have played major roles in Yemeni society. Some women of pre-Islamic and early Islamic Yemen held elite status in society. The Queen of Sheba, for example, “is a source of pride for the Yemeni nation”.[4] In addition, Queen Arwa has been noted for her attention to infrastructure, which added to a documented time of prosperity under her rule.[4] Modern day women of Yemen, however, are subject to a society that reflects largely agrarian, tribal, and patriarchal traditions. This, combined with illiteracy and economic issues has led women to continuously be deprived of their rights as citizens of Yemen.

Access to Justice[edit]

[4] While Article 40 and 41 of the 1990 unification constitution of Yemen stipulates that all citizens are considered equal before the law and that “Every citizen has the right to participate in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the country” gender discrimination is prevalent in Yemen.[5]

The addition of Article 31 to the constitution, which states that "Women are the sisters of men...they have rights and duties, which are guaranteed and assigned by Shari'a and stipulated by law"[5] has seemingly nullified the equality extended by the constitution due to its use as a base for discriminatory laws. This is due to the specific reading of Shari'a, which restricts the rights of women. Today, many Yemeni activist women believe that Shari'a can be interpreted to further include women in the social, political, economic, and cultural life of the country.[6]

Many of the discriminatory policies restrict familial rights of women. Women in Yemen cannot marry a non-Yemeni without approval from both her family and the state.[4] Further, under the Nationality Law of 1990, Yemeni women cannot pass their citizenship onto their children unless the woman divorces her husband, her husband is found to be insane or her husband dies, in which case the children can gain citizenship when they turn 19. The children of Yemeni men married to foreigners, on the other hand, are ensure Yemeni citizenship.[4] Further, divorce and even testimony of women is not equal to that of Yemeni men. Yemeni men have the right to divorce their wives at any time without justification, a woman on the other hand must go through a process of litigation in which they justify their reason for nullifying the marriage contract.[4] Before the court, a woman is considered only half a person, that is it takes “the testimony of two women” to equal “the testimony of one man.” [4] Additionally, women are prohibited from testifying in cases of adultery, slander, theft or sodomy by Article 45 (21) of the 1992 Evidence Law.[4]

Economic Rights[edit]

While women have the legal rights to ownership and use of property, many women in Yemen give administrative rights to male members of their family because they are not aware of their rights. This has been attributed to “widespread illiteracy, patriarchal attitudes, and women’s ignorance of their economic rights”.[4] In 2003, it was estimated that only 30% of the Yemeni female population was literate.[7] As Elhum Haghight-Sordellini points out, growth of the economy “can create a powerful need to bring women into the labor force”, however, Yemen’s “lack of economic growth and dependency on more developed nations” and more general instability can “prevent social change”.[8] Economic issues are made worse in Yemen by “jobless growth in the face of a rising population”.[9] Today 41.8% of Yemen’s population lives below the National Poverty line, many of them women. (undmg Yemen). This may be attributed to the large education gap between men and women in Yemen, as well as prevalent and illegal discrimination in the workforce against women. Freedom House reported that while 73% of boys were enrolled in primary school in rural areas, only 30% of girls enrolled.[4] Though the 1995 Labor Law prohibits workplace discrimination based on gender,[4] it is not enforced in practice, therefore greatly limiting opportunities for women.

Political Rights[edit]

Women are grossly underrepresented in Yemeni politics. This has not, however, prevented women from trying to make their voices heard through strikes and peaceful protests. However, while freedom of expression is a right awarded Yemenis under Article 42 of the constitution, in order to also comply with Article 103 of the Press and Publications Law, censorship is widespread as the article “outlaws direct personal criticism of the head of state and the publication of material that might lead to dissent among the Yemeni people”[4] such an article makes it difficult for any progress to be made towards development and equality within Yemeni society. Yemeni women do participate in parliamentary elections both as voters as well as candidates.[4] however from 1993 to 2003 the number of women in parliament has fallen from 11 to only 1.[4] As such, women have had little ability to influence policy making.

Social and Cultural Rights[edit]

Health and reproductive rights are major issues for Yemeni women. No legislation protects their freedom to make their own decisions with regards to these issues and therefore women are controlled by their family or, if married, by their husbands.[4] Further Yemen is a country where female genital mutilation (FGM) remains an issue, even after being banned by the Ministry of Public Health. In addition, many women are forced to marry at a young age, made possible by state policies, which gives the family the control over whether or not a girl marries and when. The common practice of forcing young girls to marry was condemned by an NGO as "child rape condoned under the guise of marriage."[10] Yemen has a tribal culture, and the marriage of young girls is common; most Yemeni girls are married before they reach puberty.[11] A proposed law setting a minimum age for marriage of 17 for women was opposed by conservative Yemenis, including women.[12]

Nobel Prize[edit]

Yemeni women’s rights activist Tawakul Karman, founder and chair of Women Journalists Without Chains (WJWC), was one of three recipients of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. As one Al Jazeera article points out, the awards serve as “an accolade for the entire Arab Spring” as well as a recognition of “women power in the advent of the Arab Spring”.[13] The Nobel committee stated that Karman was specifically awarded the prize because of her “non-violent struggle for the safety of women”. (“Profile: Tawakul Karman” Al Jazeera) Since 2007, Karman has organized and led demonstrations and sit-ins on numerous occasions with numerous Yemeni women intent on gaining more equality.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Table 4: Gender Inequality Index". United Nations Development Programme. Retrieved 7 November 2014. 
  2. ^ "The Global Gender Gap Report 2013" (PDF). World Economic Forum. pp. 12–13. 
  3. ^ "Consideration of reports submitted by States parties under article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women" (pdf). United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 13 March 2007. Retrieved 2013-01-27. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Basha, Amal. “Yemen.” In Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Citizenship and Justice, edited by Sameena Nazir and Leigh Tomppert. Oxford: Freedom House, 2005.
  5. ^ a b Constitution of the Republic of Yemen, 1994. http://www.al-bab.com/yemen/gov/con94.htm, June 23, 2007.
  6. ^ Antelava, Natalia. "Yemen protests: Women take centre stage." BBC. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-13140438, April 21, 2011.
  7. ^ Yemen: The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ym.html.
  8. ^ Haghighat-Sordellini, Elhum. Women In The Middle East And North Africa: Change and Continuity. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.
  9. ^ "Republic of Yemen." United Nations Development Program. http://www.undp.org.ye/y-profile.php, March 29, 2011.
  10. ^ Broadwin, Liz (2010-04-16). "The Syrian Women Observatory Stands in solidarity with "Illham al Assi", a Victim of Child Rape Condoned Under the Guise of Marriage". Syrian Women Observatory. Retrieved 2010-06-13. 
  11. ^ al Qadhi, Mohammed (April 9, 2010). "Dead Yemeni bride, 13, 'a victim of childhood abuse'". The National. 
  12. ^ "Yemeni child bride dies of bleeding after intercourse". AFP. April 8, 2010. Retrieved 2010-06-13. 
  13. ^ Sadliki, Larbi. "A Nobel for the Arab Spring." Al Jazeera. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/10/2011101075817463598.html, October 12, 2011.
  14. ^ Nasser, Afrah. "Yemen Is Experiencing Two Revolution." CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2011/11/17/opinion/yemen-revolution-afrah-nasser/index.html?iref=allsearch, November 17, 2011.

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