New Forms of Violence against Yemeni Women and Persisting Discriminative Laws [Archives:2007/1074/Reportage]
By: Rasha Jarhum
The second Shadow Report on the implementation level of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), ratified by Yemen in 1984, was out to reveal persisting discriminative legislations, policies, procedures and practices against Yemeni Women.
The Shadow Report was initiated and coordinated by the Sisters Arab Forums for Human Rights (SAF) and sponsored by the UNDP. It comes as an effort by the civil society to tackle the issues that the sixth National Report published six months earlier and prepared by the Woman National Committee (WNC) failed to address. Both reports are to be presented at the 41th Session of CEDAW Committee in Geneva for 2008.
Whilst the Shadow Report focused on the legislative measures that should be taken under serious considerations, the National Report focused on the legislative measures that have been achieved, highlighting 6 laws that have been amended and the 15 laws that the WNC are working on amending. Both reports touch upon some of the discriminatory provisions in the Yemeni Legislations which do not promote gender equality. For example, the Crimes and Penalty Code Law, the Citizenship Law, the Personal Status Law, and the Labor Law. However, both reports reveal that no amendments have been approved since 2005 to alter any of the discriminatory Yemeni legislative provisions.
Furthermore, the Shadow Report illustrated the gap existing between the law and its enforcement referring to issues such as the inability of women to obtain personal identity cards or passports without their guardian's consent. Additionally, practices to deprive women especially in rural areas from their rights in inheritance. Furthermore, the miserable status of pregnant imprisoned women regardless to Law No.(26) for organizing prisons, as well as, article (27) to take care of pregnant imprisoned women.
It is also worth mentioning that the Shadow Report has highlighted an important point in relation to the Crimes and Penal Code Law No.(12) for 1994, Article (232), as it mitigates the penalty on a man who kills his wife if he finds her in adultery situation. The Report also notes the WNC's proposed amendment to add a text to mitigate penalty on women who commit the same crime. However, the report indicates that both the law and amendment contradicts the Sharia'a (Islamic Law) itself. As the Sharia'a requires the man to prove the claim by providing four witnesses, otherwise to practice Lia'an rituals (swearing to Allah 4 times that he's telling the truth and on the fifth time he calls upon Allah curse on him if he's telling lies. The wife also follows the same practice and on the fifth she calls upon Allah wrath on her if she's telling lies).
Both reports reflect on the gender gap that exists in education, political participation, economic participation, and health. However, the Shadow Report revealed new forms of violence against women referring to press violence. It reported on quasi official newspapers such as Al-Dostour, Al-Bilad, and Akhbar Al-Yum, publishing slander articles against female journalists and civil society activists to defame their honor and provoke traditionalist against them. The report shed light on some females who were attacked by such slander articles like Ms Rashida Al-Qaili, Ms Samia Al-Aghbari, Ms Mahasin Al-Hawati, and Ms Rahma Hugairah.
Another form of violence that the Shadow Report highlights is the accusation of infidelity and apostasy. The report indicated that such violence is a form of cultural violence that provokes the community against female activists and journalists and call for their execution. The report referred to what happened with journalist Ms Nagla Al-Amri, and with human rights activist Ms Amal Al-Basha, when Akhbar Al-Yum Newspaper issued on 17th March 2007 published a quotation of an official in Al-Eman University accusing Ms Al-Basha of infidelity and apostasy against Islam.
Violence in the form of illegal detention and torture was also highlighted in the report, referring to what happened to Ms Anisah Al-Shuaibi who was detained along with her 6 years old son and 9 years old niece on the accusation of murdering her ex-husband. In addition to what happened to Ms Intisal Al-Siani who was arrested due to claims of involvement in terrorism acts. Along with Ms Basma Al-Zagheer who was accused of taking drugs and killing her parents. Moreover, what happened to Hanan Al-Wadee, who was abducted by security personnel from the street and sent to the central jail, under the allegations of entering Iran Embassy in Sana'a.
The Report also shed light onto the violence against female candidates in elections. Violations were reported in terms of slanders and defamation to their honor, tearing their elections campaign posters and pictures, threats to be dismissed or denied promotions at the workplace, influencing voters with misinterpreted Islamic teachings, and even pressuring and discouraging them by their own political parties to give pace to their male counterparts to run for the elections. The report referred to the suffering of a female candidate during the parliamentarian elections in 2003, in Ibb governorate, constituency (199). As she was forced to withdraw after being threatened with a fake marriage contract to a husband she never knew and spreading rumors that she is illegally married to four husbands.
Furthermore, street violence was also identified as one form that Yemeni Women suffer from in terms of verbal abuses, deliberate physical contact and even abduction crimes. Additionally, violence against marginalized women was described to be double as they suffer in all social, economical, political and cultural levels.
The Shadow Report urged to establishing a law to incriminate violence against women in all its forms. Additionally, it was recommended that an amendment is needed to articulate some vague texts such as the meaning of a shameful act in Article (273) in the Crimes and Penalty Code Law. As it opens the doors for interpreting a shameful act and so what is considered shameful in one area could not be considered as shameful in the other. For example, an Oxfam GB program, implemented by WNC, revealed that many women were imprisoned because they got married without their father's consent or acknowledgment or escaped to get married to men of their choice. Many of those women were imprisoned on accounts of committing adultery crimes or for perpetuating shameful acts.
The Shadow Report also called upon adapting a quota system of 30% in elected and appointed councils, as well as executive posts such as deputy ministers, section directors, councils, cultural attaches and in the parliament and Shoura Council secretariats. Something that the WNC is incorporating as an objective in the National Strategy for Women Development set by the WNC.
Most importantly the Shadow Report called upon amending the Yemeni legislative provisions according to enlightened Islamic interpretations. For instance, the report recommended amending the Personal Status Law to allow women to travel without the requiring the company of a mahram (male guardian). Additionally, the report called upon accepting the testimony of two women as a requirement to obtain the Personal Identity Cards; as following the Islamic Law, the testimony of two men or one man and two women is accepted.
Amal Al-Basha, Copy-Editor of the Shadow Report commented that the CEDAW Committee has urged the different states to publish a parallel or shadow report to ensure transparency. She also indicated that the CEDAW Committee met 3 members of the working team of the Shadow Report recently and were pleased with the outcomes. She also stated that Yemen ratified the CEDAW without any preservations and not amending the Yemeni Legislative Provisions that are not based on enlightened Islamic interpretation is unacceptable.
Hooria Mashour Editor of the National Report and Vice Chairperson of WNC commented to Yemen Times: “the government signed and approved the CEDAW in May 1984. Additionally, article No (6) of the Yemeni Constitution indicates Yemen's commitment to international agreements and conventions. The CEDAW consists of 30 articles that the accepting states are committed to achieve. Mainly the Convention aims at creating equality between men and women in the legal, political, economical, social and cultural levels”. She further added that one of the articles obligates the declaring states to submit regular reports at least every four years that shows the implementation level of the CEDAW. Mashour elaborated that the WNC is the government's main mechanism that is concerned with women's issues. She further added, that Yemen has submitted previously two reports to the CEDAW Committee in August 2002. Mashour also stated that “We have followed the standards set by the CEDAW committee when preparing the 6th Report. The Report shows the improvements and progress in many areas that our country achieved in relations to the lives of women at all levels, as well as, to the challenges and difficulties that constraint the complete application of the CEDAW articles”. She further indicated that the WNC have invited all related bodies on the national (central) and local level to participate in the preparation of this report through direct involvement as a team member or by providing information on the situation of women. She added “the civil society was represented by the Yemeni Women Union in the Report Preparation Team. We were careful in preparing this Report by being transparent and objective, however, other civil society organizations that they have the right to prepare a Shadow Report that covers the areas that were not addressed in the National Report and this is normal and it applies to all international Conventions. It also enhances the democratic principals through active participation of the civil society organizations to follow-up, monitor, and evaluate the performance of the government bodies”.