The war fuels the ferocity of violence against women in Yemen


By Achraf Al-Rifi

Between her right to stay with her husband and her family’s pressure to separate from him, (N.S) was the victim of a social environment that violates women's right to make their own decisions and decide about their fate.

(N.S) is a young woman in her twenties, who has been married to her university colleague for four years. At the beginning of the war, her husband's position differed from that of her pro-Houthi family, who treated her husband, who left Sanaa as a spy and traitor of the country; and they even refused him to remain as (N.S)’s husband.

The husband tried to take his wife with him, but her family refused. When she faced her family's position, she was beaten and persecuted by her family, and they even accused her of taking a socially flawed position against her family. Unfortunately, she ended by succumbing to the pressure of her family to separate from her husband, who has repeatedly tried to send mediators to help in solving the problem. However, the wife’s family rejected all these attempts, which led to the husband’s acceptance of divorce as a sacrifice for her.

He explains that this hard decision aims to provide security and stability for his wife, who lives in very difficult conditions with her family as she was subject to beats and insults.

The wife intended to go to court but she heard about the story of the girl who was killed by her brother in a court west of Sanaa after she resorted to it to ask for her right to get married, which was only possible through the consent of her brother.

The tragedy was when the court summoned the girl's brother to attend the hearing and when they confronted him he pulled his dagger and stab his sister until she is dead, before the judge, the court and the attendants.

In fact, the brother considered his sister's resort to the court as a flawed social act, which is contrary to the norms and related to the issues of honor that allow him to commit his filthy crime, without taking into account the bonds of brotherhood and the enormity of his deed.

According to jurists, the case is linked to two important issues: the first is related to the society’s inferior view of women as a subordinate and the necessity of having a guardian (the one responsible for a woman). The second is linked to the legislative texts which do not allow the girl to choose the judge as her guardian, only in the presence of her guardian. Activists and jurists criticize the Yemen's legislative heritage, which deprives women of many rights, especially the right of equality.

These two cases are simple examples of the violence imposed against women, which has fueled the ferocity of the war, which has created new tragedies about women's violence.

Physical assaults:

It is necessary to address the situation of the mothers of the abductors, who organized many events to ask for the release of their children and relatives and were subjected to physical attacks more than once by the gunmen of Houthi. In addition, during the peaceful protest of women, supporters of the former President “Ali Abdullah Saleh”, who asked for the extradition of his body were attacked, kidnapped and insulted.

Such actions illustrate the social culture and environment, which are represented in the discriminatory norms and pro-violence legislation, in a country that is suffering from tensions and a war that has negatively affected women, who found themselves the only breadwinner of their families, after the death of their husbands during the war or after the cut of their husbands and relatives’ salaries, in addition to the violence imposed by the family, the community or the warring parties.

According to the information provided by our sources, women have been subjected to serious violations due to the war, which have expelled thousands of their homes and housed them in migrants’ camps, where they were subject to sexual violence and cruel treatment.

The former head of the National Committee for Women, Dr. “Chafika Al-Wahsh”, said that a study by the committee revealed the harassment of women in the migration camps, most notably sexual violence and harassment. Moreover, the most prominent bodies that carry out violations against women in the camps are people from their families, out of fear and some of the hosting of migrant people who extort them.

According to the humanitarian workers, the rise in violence against women, since the beginning of the war has reached almost 70%, in addition to the high rate of young girls’ marriages, their deprivation of education and health and the halt of their participation in civil work because of the war.

Discrimination is the reason behind violence:

The gender studies’ expert “Wamidh Chaker” said to the journalists’ network of Arab trade unions: "The reason behind violence against women, or gender-based violence, is " discrimination "as a culture, practice and law, both in formal structures such as state and informal, such as society.

“Chaker” believes that expressing discrimination in order to devote and perpetuate it, is usually expressed by individuals or groups through violence against the privileged group against it, whether it is based on gender, race, class, religion or other. The more the privileged group is economically, socially, politically and cultural fragile, the more serious it is.

She also considers that gender-based violence is a violation of human rights, as far as the main reason for it is discrimination. She also considers that practicing the patriarchal culture is in order to maintain men’s position at the top compared to the other categories, which are culturally and socially inferior to them. In particular women and girls along with young boys and, men who were raped, for example, for different reasons, in some cases.

She added: "In the war, the wave of violence generally escalates, and this wave is based on the promotion of masculinity for the moral and physical polarization, that is, joining the battlefields and support. The dominant public discourse is filled with images of masculinity, i.e. glorifying them as the glorification of fighters, martyrs and others. For the simple human being, these images produce masculine fantasies that have been charged with rhetorical discourse, which are reflected on the

individual and collective practices more intensely than before. Thus, the environment, in their view, is appropriate to prove their masculinity as part of the imagined battle or imagined combatants by intensifying their discriminatory practices using the most prominent tool, violence. "

Sexual violence:

“Chaker” points to the increase in sexual violence during the war including rape, assault, harassment, even among incest, as sex is a synonym of masculinity in many societies. Moreover, wars create a situation of instability, where security regresses, the state's control, the regime and the rule of law weakens. The vulnerable groups that have lost the protectionist cover of the state are increasingly weaker and more fragile. Consequently, the displacement or asylum that are key factors of vulnerability, poverty, political oppression, etc .. increase.

According to “Chaker”, the pattern of gender-based violence in Yemen has not yet been demonstrated by conflict, such as in Rwanda or Germany during the two world wars or during the war of Bosnia and Herzegovina or in other countries in South American, Asia and Africa that have experienced conflicts and practiced collective rape on women of the second party, an instrument of ethnic cleaning, but there are other special practices in the Arab region, both in Yemen and Syria, such as the marriage of young girls and the marriage of widows of the war martyrs. Because the motive for ethnic cleaning is not absent in the Arab case, the fighters have the same race.

Yemen is the worst at the international level:

The official legislations represented by laws and procedures and their practice in official state institutions such as police, detainees and the judiciary through local and executive forms of the market play a key role in the non-providing of security to citizens belonging to fragile or vulnerable groups, who need more protection and empowerment than the others, so that the state could fulfill its duty to achieve an equal citizenship among all the groups of society, according to “Chaker”.

She also considers that Yemen is the worst country in the world for gender equality because of the large number of discriminatory laws, most notably the family law, followed by the Penal Code, the Civil Code and many other established procedures, as well as, the weakness of the economic, social and political programs that pay little attention to empowering women and promoting them such as in education, work, civil and political participation, and the provision of services that reduce the burden of traditional roles for women such as health, water, roads, electricity, cooking gas, etc., but primarily providing security for women is considered as preliminary to reduce the fragile situation and to enable them to exercise their activities, mobility and participation in public life in general.

works and laws are formulated as a united civil culture , which replaces the special community culture, says “Chaker”.

The status of masculinity:

The Judge “Iman Chaif”, who is also the head of the legal department in the House of Representatives, believes that the war does not concern men only because the greatest impact is on women, which has made the international conventions and laws adopt special provisions for the protection of women, in addition to the issuance of Security Council resolutions to protect women during armed conflicts and oblige countries to provide additional protection for women, and to enjoy special protection in the cases of sexual violence in times of armed conflicts, which is a non-statute war crime.

She believes that women are affected quickly by war, especially when the head of the family is lost, arrested or prisoned, where women bear the great burden of suffering, considering that violence against women is an old social phenomenon that appears even in normal states and is prevalent in the Eastern societies for many reasons. One of the main reasons is the authoritarian masculine situation, which led to the economic violence due to poverty and need, and legal due to non-deterrent legislation as well as, social, political and cultural violence

One of the causes of violence against women is the lack of laws to punish the violators, according to judge “Iman”, who believes that a law should have been enacted in Yemen to criminalize such violence and define its types and penalties for perpetrators after the issuance of the Convention on the Elimination of Violence against Women. Pointing out that there have been attempts to prepare a project on the criminalization of violence against women, which she participated in it, however, it did succeed because of the bad conditions in the country to be postponed despite its popularity, hoping that the law will be issued in the future, so as not to increase the pace of violence.

The review of the legislative system:

The head of the legal department in the House of Representatives considers that the legislative system in Yemen needs to be carefully reviewed to eliminate discrimination against women, to grant them fair and equal rights and to repeal legislation and texts that discriminate against women's work, noting that two laws have already been implemented with the National Women's Committee to reform these laws and abolish discrimination, including some of them , which have been already approved by the parliament .

Among the cases of violence against women in periods of armed conflict according to “Chaif” are the ones characterized by direct targeted killings of women, where many women have been killed in the war with direct or obstructive targeting, in addition to physical, psychological and sexual abuse such as the rape of women in Yemen due to war conditions, prostitution which harm the public life.

She also referred to the recent widespread phenomenon of female activists in public affairs and political leaders, who have been attacked by the armed forces or repressive apparatuses. They were beaten, assaulted and harassed because they protested to ask for their basic rights. Violence against the internally displaced women :

One of the violence forms against women is the internal displacement and an external refuge. Women and children suffer from internal violence such as hunger, poverty and widespread diseases. Some women have been forced to flee abroad because of war and go to expatriate, so as to provide a living and secure housing.

She points out that the war prompted women to beg, whether displaced or forced to leave their homes and to seek a living after the shift of the economic role from man to women, who had lost their husbands and families, in addition to the family dislocation and divorce due to the deteriorating economic situation, the marriage of minors and forced marriage.

Overall, the violence against women in Yemen remains a black hole that requires great efforts to fill it and to bring about the values of equality and respect for human rights, rather than the culture of discrimination and its widespread practices, both socially and institutionally, through state bodies.