Yemeni laws discriminate against women [Archives:2008/1139/Local News]

March 20 2008

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