Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, although spousal rape is not criminalized because a woman may not legally refuse sexual relations with her husband. The government did not effectively enforce the law against rape. The punishment for rape is imprisonment for up to 15 years; however, the maximum sentence was not imposed during the year. There were no reliable statistics on the number of rapes, as the social repercussions and fear of retaliation against victims sharply limit their willingness to report the crime. Female activists asserted that physical, emotional, and sexual abuse within marriage was widespread.
Most rape victims did not report the crime due to fear of shaming the family, incurring violent retaliation, or being prosecuted. By law rape victims can be prosecuted on charges of fornication if a perpetrator is not charged. There were no reports of this during the year. According to law, without the perpetrator’s confession the victim must provide four male witnesses to the crime.
The law provides women with protection against domestic violence except spousal rape under the general rubric of protecting persons against violence, but authorities did not enforce this provision effectively. Courts were largely viewed as corrupt or inefficient. Criminal sanction for spousal violence was rare. 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 it often was preferred to the courts for that reason. Spousal abuse generally was undocumented but was considered a major problem by women’s groups. Violence against women and children was considered a family affair and was more likely to be handled through tribal arbitration than be reported 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.
Small shelters for battered women in Sana’a and Aden assisted victims, and telephone hotlines operated with moderate success in major cities, but the large majority of women in rural areas had little access to shelters or other assistance.
Women’s rights activists and the media continued to investigate and report on violations of women’s rights. During the year NGOs and the Ministry of Human Rights sponsored several women’s rights conferences dealing with violence against women, increasing the political representation of women, and economic empowerment. The Arab Sisters Forum, with funding from a donor government and in cooperation with the Ministry of Social and Labor Affairs, established projects aimed at providing protection against violence for women and children.
The Ministry of Interior’s Women and Children Office carried out police training to improve the official response to abuses, including rape. It also maintained a telephone number dedicated to reporting abuses. The number reportedly received dozens of calls per month, and the office claimed all cases would be investigated. The Ministry of Information broadcast programs on official television and radio stations promoting women’s rights but did not cover some sensitive topics, such as forced marriage and illiteracy. The NDC included gender issues in several of its working groups and in its final outcomes.
Harmful Traditional Practices: The law regarding violence against women states that a man should be executed if convicted of killing a woman. The penal code, however, allows leniency for persons guilty of committing an honor crime or violently assaulting or killing a woman for perceived “immodest” or “defiant” behavior. The law does not address other types of honor crimes, including beatings, forced isolation, imprisonment, and forced and early marriage. The penal code also allows for a substantially reduced sentence when a husband kills his wife and a man he believes to be her lover.
Sexual Harassment: The extent of sexual harassment, as well as a legal definition within the local context, was difficult to determine, although direct observation and very infrequent media reports suggested it occurred 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. Sexual harassment in the streets was a major problem for women. A 2010 report by the Athar Foundation for Development found that 98.8 percent of women have faced sexual harassment in the streets. The website of Safe Streets, an NGO focusing on sexual harassment, contained many anecdotal reports of harassment, for example, a case in which a young girl on a bus confronted a man who had been attempting to grope her. Instead of coming to her defense when she protested loudly, other men on the bus complained that her behavior was not “adequate for a woman of moral standing,” and that she should have remained quiet and respectful.
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. Societal pressure, women’s lack of education, and the young age of marriage for many girls, however, meant 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 buy and use contraception, but if a particular contraceptive (such as the birth control pill) had another medical use, it could 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 with only traditional midwives and did not see a doctor during their pregnancies or after delivery. According to the latest available UN statistics, there were approximately 200 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in the country during the year. Major factors contributing to the high maternal mortality rate included very limited access to even primary health care in rural areas, poor access to transportation, and lack of awareness and education.
Discrimination: Women faced deeply entrenched discrimination in both law and practice in all aspects of their lives. Women cannot marry without permission of their male guardians, do not have equal rights in inheritance, divorce, or child custody, and have little legal protection. Women did not enjoy the same legal status as men under family law, property law, inheritance law, and in the judicial system. They experienced discrimination in areas such as employment, credit, and pay, owning or managing businesses, education, and housing. This discrimination was accentuated by the 52 percent female illiteracy rate. In higher education women accounted for 30.5 percent of university students countrywide. A 30-percent quota for the admission of women to institutions of higher education was adopted by the National Dialogue Conference, and the NDC recommended a 30-percent quota for women in all government agencies be included in the new constitution.
Women faced discrimination under family law and inheritance law. Courts awarded custody of children over a specified age (seven years for boys and nine years for girls) to the divorced husband or the deceased husband’s family. In numerous cases, former husbands prevented divorced noncitizen women from visiting their children. Under sharia inheritance laws, which assume that women receive support from their male relatives, daughters receive half the inheritance awarded to their brothers.
Women also faced unequal treatment in courts, where the testimony of one man equates to that of two women. In calculating accidental death or injury compensation based on sharia, female relatives receive 50 percent of what male relatives receive. Female parties in court proceedings such as divorce and other family law cases normally deputized male relatives to speak on their behalf, although 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. Under tribal customary law, however, 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. 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 or prohibit a female citizen’s travel (see section 2.d.).
Women experienced economic discrimination. The law stipulates that women are equal to men in employment rights, but women’s rights activists and NGOs reported discrimination was a common practice in the public and private sectors. Despite the government’s goal to increase the role of women in the economic sector, females age 15 and older represented only 20 percent of the formal workforce, largely due to barriers to women’s access to education and social restrictions that precluded women from seeking and gaining employment. 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.
Government mechanisms to enforce equal protection were weak, although the Ministry of Human Rights has launched several programs promoting equal rights for women in business and has established a structure to investigate complaints of discrimination against women.
According to the Ministry of Social and Labor Affairs, 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, with support from the Ministry of Human Rights, conducted workshops on women’s rights.