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Yemeni laws discriminate against women


By: Hooria Mashoor

 

Reviewing the legislative system of Yemen for the first time, one gets the impression that the laws are well-drafted and ensure the rights of both men and women. Upon analyzing and dissecting those laws and regulations, one will inevitably realize that certain elements of this system, which regulates private and public relationships, involve a considerable degree of discrimination against women. This conclusion is supported by the legal teams formed by the National Women’s Committee (NWC), which have been working since 2000 to examine Yemeni laws for gender bias.The NWC wanted to ensure this system complies with the Islamic tenets and principles as the main source of legislation, with the Constitution and with the international conventions ratified by the Republic of Yemen, particularly the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The legal review teams came up with proof that there is flagrant discrimination embedded in some provisions, most severely in the Personal Status law, the Nationality law and the Penalty law.The Personal Status law does not specify an appropriate age of marriage, which as a result, inadvertently permits early marriage among young females – an especially common problem in rural areas. Early marriage in turn affects girls’ ability to continue their education. With early marriage comes early pregnancies, which can cause problems like fistula (a condition that causes incontinence) or even to death during childbirth.

The Personal Status law arbitrates against a wife, as it gives a man the absolute right to polygamy, without provisions mandating that he inform his wife of his plans. The law doesn’t restrict polygamy according to Sharia rule, which stipulates non-harassment, equality and justice among wives. The same law discriminates against divorced women to the same degree when it comes to alimony and child custody.

The Nationality law’s treatment of a Yemeni man’s foreign wife and children is different from its treatment of the foreign husband and children of a Yemeni woman.

Moreover, the Penalty law severely undervalues a woman’s worth, since the law claims that the blood of a woman is worth only half as much as a man’s. According to this law, a woman, when injured, shall be compensated with half the financial amount given to a man for the same injury. A man’s penalty for murdering his wife or any of his female relatives over adultery is mitigated by the law, while the same law says that a female who commits the same act is to be executed.

Around 61 discriminatory provisions have been submitted to the decision-makers since 2001.

Last March, the Cabinet of Ministers approved – in principle – some suggested amendments to laws that discriminate against women. However, the Cabinet excluded the provision to define a legal age of marriage in the Personal Status law, on the grounds that it should be amended in the Child Rights law, as proposed by the Higher Council of Childhood. The Cabinet also excluded the provisions that call for the application of the “quota” system aimed at rejuvenating women’s political participation, under the pretext that this issue is still subject to discussion among different political parties.

The Cabinet formed a ministerial committee comprised of the Ministers of Endowments, Justice, and Legal Affairs, in addition to the Chairperson of the National Women’s Committee to study, examine and legally redraft certain laws.

Approved by the Cabinet of Ministers, the legal provisions were then referred to the Parliament last year and were put on the agenda for review and discussion. The Parliament circulate the drafted legal amendments on the specialist committees for discussion and opinion before they are discussed and decided upon by the MPs.

Many laws find their way through the Parliament quickly, but for some reason, those laws related to women’s rights are always considered with mistrust and doubt. The proof of this is that the amendments to the Personal Status law were first raised in the early days of the National Women’s Committee – back in 1996. Since that time, this issue has stood still. Ironically, this does not invite suspicion because the nature of the Parliament is still the same, not conducive to change. Nor does it facilitate the improvement of women’s legal status, despite the dialogue initiated with the Parliament and its various committees. Although there are voices that support women, they are few, separate and not influential.

Women hope that the Parliament will spend time on legal amendments which logically shouldn’t be delayed, especially because those provisions were revised by professional jurisprudence specialists. A ray of hope still glimmers when women remember that most of the MPs, if not all, have won due to female voters. The earlier the Parliament approves those amendments, the more time all of us save. Moreover, such a step would enable the National Women’s Committee to proceed to Phase III of the continued Legal Amendments Project, which reacts and adapts to new developments and requirements.

The civil society and women’s organizations must play a greater role in terms of mobilization, advocacy, and even pressuring the Parliament to look into and approve those laws. Only then can discrimination against women be eliminated.

Hooria Mashoor is deputy chairperson of the Women National Committee and a strong advocate for women’s rights.

 

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