Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, although spousal rape is not criminalized because a woman may not refuse sexual relations with her husband. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The punishment for rape is imprisonment for up to 15 years; however, the maximum sentence was not imposed. There were no reliable statistics on the number of rapes.
Most rape victims did not report the crime for fear of “shaming” the family and incurring violent retaliation. Rape victims were reportedly prosecuted on charges of fornication after the perpetrator was not charged. According to the law, without a confession the defense must provide four female or two male witnesses to the crime. Flagrant corruption often hindered investigations.
The law provides women with protection against domestic violence under the general rubric of protecting persons against violence, but it was ineffectively enforced. Although spousal abuse occurred, it generally was undocumented. Courts were largely viewed as corrupt, while tribal customary law was seen to be more effective and more likely to present a better outcome for women complainants, because violence against women and children was considered a family affair and usually went unreported to police. Due to social pressures, an abused woman was expected to take her complaint to a male relative (rather than to authorities) to intercede on her behalf or provide sanctuary.
A small shelter for battered women in Aden assisted victims, and telephone hotlines operated with moderate success in Aden and Sana’a, but the large majority of Yemenis live in rural areas without such access.
The media and women’s rights activists continued to investigate and report on violations of women’s rights. During the year NGOs sponsored several women’s rights conferences dealing with matters such as violence against women, increasing the political representation of women, and economic empowerment. The Ministry of Information broadcast programs on official television and radio stations promoting women’s rights but avoided sensitive women’s rights’ topics such as forced marriage and illiteracy.
Harmful Traditional Practices: The penal code allows leniency for persons guilty of committing an honor crime, violent assault, or killing committed against women for perceived “immodest” or “defiant” behavior. The law does not address other types of honor crimes, including beatings, forced isolation, imprisonment, and forced early marriage. The law regarding violence against women states a man should be executed if convicted of killing a woman. However, a husband who kills his wife and her lover may receive a substantially reduced sentence. Criminal sanction for spousal violence was rare. Like all murders and serious crimes, violence against women was usually handled through the tribal arbitration process rather than through the criminal courts. Local female tribal experts have argued that tribal arbitration is fairer for women, and was often preferred to the courts for that reason.
Sexual Harassment: The extent, as well as a legal definition within the local context, of sexual harassment was difficult to determine, although direct observation and very infrequent media reports suggested it occurred both in the workplace and in the streets. No specific laws prohibit sexual harassment. There were anecdotal reports of men accused of sexual harassment being transferred to other offices to prevent further incidents. Regime elements targeted female protesters and accused them of being “unfeminine” and “un-Islamic.”
Sex Tourism: No laws specifically address sex tourism from outside the country, but it was a problem, particularly in Aden and Sana’a. Reportedly, some elements of the MOI and PSO reporting to the president unofficially facilitated it through corruption for financial gain, although the MOI attempted to stop the use of “temporary marriage” provisions of Islamic law as a vehicle for sex tourism (see section 1.f.).
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of government interference in the right of couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of children. However, societal pressure, women’s lack of education, and the young age of marriage for many women and girls meant that many women in reality had little to no control over reproduction. Decisions regarding access to contraceptives, family size, and procedures involving reproductive and fertility treatments required the consent of both husband and wife. It was technically illegal for single women to access contraception, but if a particular contraceptive (such as the pill) has another medical use, it can be used. The information and means to make those decisions were freely available in cities, although contraception, obstetric care, and postpartum care were too costly for much of the population. Most women gave birth at home without skilled attendance and did not see a doctor during their pregnancies or after delivery. According to the latest available UN statistics, there were approximately 210 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in the country in 2008. Information was not available regarding women’s equal diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections.
Discrimination: Women do not enjoy the same legal status as men under family law, property law, inheritance law, and in the judicial system. They experienced discrimination in such areas as employment, credit, pay, owning or managing businesses, education, and housing. This discrimination was accentuated by the 65 percent female illiteracy rate.
Women faced discrimination under family law and inheritance law. Courts awarded custody of children to the divorced husband or the deceased husband’s family when they attained a specified age (seven years for boys and nine years for girls). In numerous cases former husbands prevented divorced noncitizen women from visiting their children. Under Sharia inheritance laws, which assumes women will receive support from their husbands, daughters receive half the inheritance awarded to their brothers.
Women also faced discrimination in courts, where the testimony of one man equals that of two women. Sharia discriminates against women in calculating accidental death or injury compensation; women receive 50 percent of what men receive. Female parties in court proceedings such as divorce and family law cases normally deputized male relatives to speak on their behalf; however, they have the option to speak for themselves.
A husband may divorce a wife without justifying the action in court. Under the formal court system, a woman must provide a justification. However, under tribal customary law, a woman has the right to divorce without justification.
Some interpretations of Sharia in the country prohibit a Muslim woman from marrying a non-Muslim man, although other interpretations permit marrying a Christian or Jewish man. A Muslim man is allowed to marry a non-Muslim woman. Women may only confer citizenship on their foreign-born spouses after the foreigner has resided in the country for 15 years. The foreign wife of a male citizen must remain in the country for two years to obtain a residency permit.
Any citizen who wishes to marry a foreigner must obtain the permission of the Ministry of Interior. A woman wishing to marry a foreigner must present proof of her parents’ approval. A foreign woman who wishes to marry a male citizen must prove to the ministry that she is “of good conduct and behavior.” A close male relative has the authority to approve a female citizen’s travel (see section 2.d.).
Women experienced economic discrimination. The law stipulates women are equal to men in employment rights, but women’s rights activists and NGOs reported that discrimination was a common practice in the public and private sectors. Women’s unemployment rate was nearly four times that of men, women’s wages were on average one-fifth those of men, and women were largely excluded from the professions.
Cultural barriers also restricted the exercise of women’s property rights. In most rural areas, social norms largely prevented women from owning land. Cultural barriers also restricted women’s access to formal credit.
Governmental mechanisms to enforce equal protection were weak or nonexistent.
According to the Ministry of Social and Labor Affairs (MSAL), more than 170 NGOs worked for women’s advancement. The Arab Sisters Forum for Human Rights worked with other NGOs, the government, and donor countries to strengthen women’s political participation. The Yemeni Women’s Union and Women’s National Committee conducted workshops on women’s rights. The Arab Sisters Forum, with funding from a donor government and in cooperation with the MSAL, established projects aimed at providing protection against violence for women and children.