Women in Conflict with the Law [Archives:2000/29/Culture]

July 17 2000

Mohammed Owad Ba Obaid
Assisstant Professor
Psychology Department
Sana’a Unviveristy
W oman’s increased participation in public life has opened before her spacious opportunity for more freedom and equality in various areas of life. In a country like Yemen, women have actually made laudable strides in economic, social, political and cultural dimensions of the society. Women’s active participation in the past two decades is attributed to the impact of education despite the difficulties facing it.
However, integrating women in the public life is not always a positive thing owing to the negative consequences associating to this process on many women’s personal lives. Studies in criminology indicate that one of the important factors leading to increased rate of crime among women in the past two decades is ascribed to the radical change in women’s roles in the society. That is, women in the past two decades had not only been doing their household works, they had also taken up effective roles in the economic, political and cultural life of the society that means more efforts were to be exerted and extra burdens were to be borne than has traditionally been the case. Besides, their new encounter with the outside world has created some conflicts within them that might , at many times, have forced them to violate the law or be a victim of crime. In both cases, she has had to be subjected to the letter and spirit of the laws which are enacted and implemented by men.
Women as Victims of the Law:
A woman who is subjected to assault comes to suffer double misfortunes. She is, on the one hand, a victim of a crime so often committed by men and at the same time she does not get adequate justice from institutions concerned especially when the crime is committed within the family. In such cases the victim tends, more often than not, to cover it up to avoid a more severely punishment by the assailant, let alone reporting the matter to law enforcing institutions concerned. If the victim is severely assaulted, the assailant or anyone from the family takes the initiative to take her to a doctor. However, he manoeuvres to hide causes of the case and identity of the assailant. Doctors often do not dare record the case as premeditated assault. That is the way such cases of assault are disposed of. Obviously, the victim becomes vulnerable to increasingly similar assaults.
When the victim ventures to report the matter to the judicial authorities, the authorities concerned normally do not give such cases the attention needed especially when the assault is physical and is committed by a family member.
A study that I conducted in 1999 on the reactions of police officers to violence against women reveals that women showing up in police stations evoke diverse reactions among police officers. Some officers react passively to the victimized women’s reports, observe that a woman who dares to go to police stations and reports about an assault made by a family member is a not virtuous woman. “The respectable woman should put up with assaults made against her by family members, especially if the assault is done by her husband. Men’s assaults against women are at many times the result of women’s bad behavior,” they asserted. This attitude is psychologically termed as rationalization. That is, the assailant justifies his inhumane attitudes against whomever. As expected police officers fall short of the degree of professionalism in performing their duties and delivering justice to the victim.
Some police officers pretend to show some concern about assaults’ cases against women. However, this affected sympathy hides murky evil intentions towards the victim with the aim that the victim invariably becomes object of those officers sexual abuse. Although such cases are not very frequent, the fact remains that it happens in reality.
Police officers’ ways of dealing with women’s reports vary according to their cultural and social background. The question depends on policemen understanding of the concept of violence against women. The lack of legislations on protection of women against family violence makes the police rely on their subjective discretion in such cases. This makes it important to conduct more studies about police officers’ and judicial authorities’ attitudes towards violence against women. These studies should be the base for planning out measures to ameliorate police officers’ attitudes towards violence against women to support them.
Rights of Women Violating the Law:
When a woman violates the law, she is subjected to the same lawful criminal procedures exactly like her male counterpart. However, the point the problem arises regarding the way these legal procedures is implemented. In reality, the accused or convicted woman’s rights are not at all protected. She may be subjected to a long period of interrogation meaning a long stay in the Central Prison. Consequently, keeping a defendant woman in contact with convicted women prisoners will have a detrimental effect on her reputation and harms her social status.
Conditions of women prisons lack the basic essential conditions in terms of the simplest international standards especially to protect their private lives which presupposes special health care for them and their children.
Pregnant women and mothers are those in maximum need of special care. They have to be guaranteed special health care; deliveries should be permitted in civil hospitals, the birth place should not be mentioned in the birth certificate, mothers should have the right to breast feed their children, providing nursery schools with competent staff. Different countries adopt various rules for satisfying women’s needs in prisons. However, there are some fundamental rules that should be observed. Some of these rules are stated by the Human Rights Watch in its international report about prisons at New York in 1993. The most important of which are the following:
1) Women should be given a sanitary napkin or the like. Besides, they have the right to have a daily bath during the monthly period.
2) Men and women should have equal access to education and work.
3) Pregnant women should have regular health check-ups before deliveries. Besides, they should be provided with an appropriate nutritional diet system.
4) Efforts should be exerted to ensure mother’s contact with their children enabling them to properly bring them up.
The above stated requirements are the minimal conditions required for the convicted women. They are part and parcel of the basic human rights report.
Good intentions of the Law Enforcing Institutions in our country are not enough to meet the visible discrepancy in women’s prisons. These prisons hardly meet the basic needs of women, let alone other essential conditions such as the monthly period, pregnancy and maternal requirements. Certainly, this negatively affects their physical as well as mental health. Therefore, it seems urgent to create some specific rules that safeguard women prisoners rights inside prisons. Prisons should also be provided with funds and competent qualified gynecologists to ensure health care of women, note their and look after their personal needs.
Prisons in their present conditions are not at all suitable as reforming institutions aimed at rehabilitating the convicted women and prepare them to be re-integrate in society after their release. Some women prisoners have finished their prison terms. However, they dare not leave prison before getting assurances from their families not to be assaulted again, especially those convicted of immoral practices. This is the most flagrant violation of human rights that necessitates an immediate legal and practical action by the authorities concerned.
I believe these problems can be solved through the following steps:
1) Creating female police officers whose duty is to deal with female victims of crimes and the law breakers. These police officers have to follow up the cases of women from the very moment of their arrest to the end of their prison term.
2)The establishment of ‘Police Department on Family Protection’ in provincial capitals. These police stations are directly affiliated with the Interior Ministry. Their duty would be to solve family problems and protect women and children from any family assaults.
3) Establishing detention centres pending completion of investigation for women in all the governorates.
4) Coordinating between the governmental and non-governmental organizations to temporary shelters or remand home for women who have no place to stay and are liable to assault. Some psychologists and psychiatrists should also be available to help these women, guide and rehabilitate them.
5) Improving the conditions of imprisoned women through transferring these prisons to reforming centers, requalifying those convicted and referring other ones to other centers. A competent qualified cadre should also be trained to be in charge of the administration in women’s prisons.
In short, this essay is primarily intended to attract public attention and those interested in human rights to the serious problems suffered by women who are forced to violate the law. I believe that it is still too early to take up other precautions to ensure fundamental human rights for such women.