Women's Rights

Yemeni groups uphold women's rights amid war

By Faisal Darem in Sanaa

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Participants pose for a photograph during a November 26th ceremony in Sanaa marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. [Photo courtesy of Mansour al-Jaradi]

Women's rights organisations in Yemen recently highlighted the need to protect women from all forms of familial and societal violence, with experts telling Al-Mashareq that women are particularly vulnerable during times of armed conflict.

A number of civil society organisations took part in a November 26th ceremony to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

They called for women to be protected in times of conflict, noting that women have been subjected to all forms of violence during Yemen's ongoing war and acts of violence perpetrated by extremist groups.

The ceremony was put on by the Peace Foundation for Humanitarian Response and Development with support from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Yemen and the Yemeni Women's Union.

The Wujoh Foundation for Media and Development was among the groups taking part in the event, which presented white papers on the severe abuse women are subjected to in armed conflicts.

"We mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women against the backdrop of the conflicts that are ongoing today," Peace Foundation head Maliha al-Asaadi told Al-Mashareq.

"We turned this ceremony into a workshop whose output will become work programmes for participating parties, including international and local organisations and state institutions," she said.

All parties to the conflict have been involved in one way or another in the commission of violence against women, she said, with extremist groups committing the severest forms of violence and abuse against women.

In an incident that occurred in Hadramaut province after al-Qaeda seized al-Mukalla, for example, the group placed a woman in a hole in the ground and stoned her to death, she said.

The protection of women's rights requires mechanisms based on national legislation, within the framework of international legislation "so the perpetrators of these abuses, which are crimes, do not escape justice", al-Asaadi said.

Many forms of abuse

"The implementation of precautionary and legal measures in displacement camps is one step on the path of ensuring that women are protected from all forms of violence against them in times of war," said Lamis al-Arashi of the Yemeni Women's Union.

The union noted abuses against women, including rape and early marriage, during a field visit to a displacement camp in Hajjah province.

These were in addition "to violations of their right to live, obtain food and receive basic services to help them cope with the circumstances of their displacement", al-Arashi said.

Extremist groups who took advantage of the turmoil in Yemen to seize control of various parts of the country have committed abuses against women, she said.

"In al-Mukalla, al-Qaeda shut down the headquarters of the Yemeni Women's Union, which provides legal support and protection to women and defends their rights," she said, adding that the union has since resumed its work in the city.

"The forms of violence and abuse committed against women are many, including restrictions on their freedom to go out to the markets and public places and forcing them to be accompanied by a man," she said.

The group also imposed its ideology upon schools and universities, prohibited the mixing of the sexes in these institutions, and flogged women in public squares under various legally unacceptable pretexts, she added.

The union has documented these cases, al-Arashi said.

Suffering under extremists

Extremist groups have contradictory sets of expectations regarding the desired conduct of women, human rights activist Widad al-Badawi told Al-Mashareq.

On the one hand, she said, they require "blind obedience to the man of the house and the abolishment of the self, to prevent them from leaving their homes and walking freely in the streets". On the other, women are forced into temporary marriages or encouraged to perform "sexual jihad".

The attempts by extremist groups such as the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) to impose their rules on universities in Aden has caused "great concern for parents", she said.

Some families have prevented their daughters from going to school "out of fear of irresponsible actions by these groups", she added.

According to the World Population Fund, "three million Yemeni women were subjected to various types of abuse and violence in Yemen in one year", said Wujoh Foundation for Media and Development head Mansour al-Jaradi.

"Extremist and armed groups murdered, intimidated and kidnapped women, including kidnapping incidents of a number of Yemeni women who worked for international organisations, such as Shireen Makkawi, who was kidnapped by al-Qaeda in 2015 and later released for ransom," he told Al-Mashareq.

Al-Jaradi called on all members of Yemeni society to "monitor and document violations against women in particular, and society in general".

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