The Roles of Gender in Society and Women's Rights in Yemen
The Roles of Gender in Society and Women's Rights in Yemen

The Roles of Gender in Society and Women’s Rights in Yemen

United Nations data shows that it is seen that more than 76% of women in Yemen need humanitarian assistance (UN Women, 2020).
United Nations data shows that it is seen that more than 76% of women in Yemen need humanitarian assistance (UN Women, 2020).

United Nations data shows that it is seen that more than 76% of women in Yemen need humanitarian assistance (UN Women, 2020).

According to the Gender Inequality Index prepared by the United Nations in 2017, Yemen ranks last among 144 countries. Looking at the United Nations OCHA (United Nations Office for The Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) data, it is seen that more than 76% of women in Yemen need humanitarian assistance (UN Women, 2020).

In this article, first of all, the impact of the conflict in Yemen on women’s rights will be analyzed, and again, the activities of women in social, legal and political fields, as well as violations in social issues such as education, work and marriage will be discussed.

The Roles of Gender in Society and Women's Rights in Yemen
The Roles of Gender in Society and Women’s Rights in Yemen

In addition, the struggle of women in Yemen to gain their own rights against the current administration and the society they live in will be mentioned. In addition to all these rights violations, women’s rights recognized by the state and the changes in these rights over time will be discussed.

In addition, contracts to which the state is a party will be included in this article. The low number of contracts to which the Yemen government is a party to women’s rights and the reasons why the contracts could not be implemented will also be briefly mentioned.

Women’s Rights

Human rights are fundamental rights and freedoms that must be guaranteed for all people.

These rights apply equally to all; However, in many societies, women are prevented from exercising their rights due to traditions, prejudice, social and economic interests.

Women's rights eventually gained great importance in the 19th century (Womankind, 2020).

However, while many countries have made great progress on women’s rights, there are still struggles in some underdeveloped countries, and one of these countries is Yemen.

The Republic of Yemen was formed by the unification of the Arab Republic of Yemen (North Yemen) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Yemen (South Yemen) in 1990 (Mfa, 2020).

Although today’s Yemen tried to act with a centralized state system after unification, it could not be successful. The reason for this is its strategic geographical structure, the depletion of oil resources, water problem, rapid population growth, increase in piracy and poverty, as well as the ethnic separatist Houthi Movement that puts the current government in a difficult situation (Taşken, 2015).

In Yemen, a patriarchal and traditionalist society has been adopted under the influence of the tribal culture they lived in in the past. Women’s rights have also become a major problem in Yemen from past to present.

While the government has been dealing with its ongoing problems, women have had great difficulty in pursuing their rights, and these problems have brought with them more violations of women’s rights. Although some efforts have been made in this regard, violations could not be prevented.

As an example of this, it is seen that women who have lost their healthy and safe shelter opportunities due to conflicts are in poor living conditions (hence they also face verbal, physical and sexual harassment) and have problems in accessing and utilizing clean, healthy food and water (Aydın Koyuncu, 2016).

Women’s Rights in Yemen

Conflicts are not the only reason for the violations of women’s rights in Yemen. The first example we can give this is violations in the field of education. In Yemen, it is seen that the schooling rate of girls is the lowest among Middle Eastern countries.

While the female literacy rate is 40% according to 2007 data, it is seen that this rate increases to 77% for men. Again, while the rate of women going to higher education is 5%, this rate is around 17% for men. Looking at these data, it is concluded that women are also discriminated against in enjoying the right to education.

Although there are opinions that attribute the lower education level of women compared to men to existing conflicts, it was observed that 43% of women did not attend school at all before the increase in conflict (Aydın Koyuncu, 2016).

Education in Yemen

The education system in Yemen is weaker, especially in rural areas, and parents are not required to send their children to school. Uneducated women in rural areas are approximately twice as many in urban areas (Paffenholz, t.y ).

The Roles of Gender in Society and Women's Rights in Yemen
The Roles of Gender in Society and Women’s Rights in Yemen

Cultural norms, long distances and the lack of female teachers are also among the factors that reduce women’s access to education. The conflicts that took place only made this situation worse (Oxfam, CARE, GenCap, 2016).

The establishment of the General Union of Yemen Women, which is responsible for protecting women in rural areas and their interests, is an important step taken to improve the current situation (Aydın Koyuncu, 2016). Even though the Women’s Union has started to offer literacy courses and vocational training, the country still has a traditionalist understanding of gender equality in society, despite the 54th article of the Constitution of the Republic of Yemen, “Education is a right for all citizens.”

Despite all this, the country is far from achieving gender equality. So much so that one of the biggest obstacles to women’s financial freedom is that they are not allowed to work as well as not being able to receive education.

It is seen that women who previously could find a job, at least in the agricultural economy, nowadays lose these opportunities for security reasons

Regulation Law in Yemen

While women have legal rights to own and use property, many women in Yemen are not aware of their rights, so male members of their families are given administrative rights. Although the Labor Law of 1995 prohibits gender-based workplace discrimination, this law is not implemented in practice.

Therefore, opportunities for women are greatly limited. Additionally, the Personal Situation Act does not allow a woman to leave the house without her husband’s permission. Culturally, Yemeni women are expected to stay at home and take care of their children. Thus, their access to job opportunities is prevented (Aydın Koyuncu, 2016).

Women in Yemen cannot marry a non-Yemeni person without the consent of his family and the state. Under the 1990 Nationality Act, Yemeni women cannot pass their nationality on to their children unless they divorce their husband, prove that their husband is mentally ill or die.

The children of Yemeni men who marry foreigners, on the other hand, guarantee Yemeni citizenship. Yemeni men have the right to divorce at any time without justification, while a woman must go through a lengthy litigation process. Before the court, a woman is considered only half a person, that is, “the expression of two women” is equal to the “testimony of one man”.

In addition, women are even prohibited from making statements in Article 45 of the 1992 Evidence Law in cases such as slander and theft. (Unicef, t.y) As can be seen, women have almost no say before the court. Women also do not have equal rights with men regarding divorce, inheritance or child custody (Oxfam, CARE and GenCap, 2016).

The Roles of Gender in Society and Women's Rights in Yemen
The Roles of Gender in Society and Women’s Rights in Yemen

Personal Status Act

The Personal Status Act (1992) and the Penal Code (1994) are other laws that discriminate against women. The Personal Status Act contradicts some parts of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, stating that women must provide sexual access to their spouses and basically allow rape within a marriage (CARE, 2016).

Another example of women’s litigation process is; Under Yemen’s laws, if a woman is caught in adultery and killed by her husband or a male relative, that man is either fined or sentenced to a maximum of 1 year in prison.

In addition, many cases are brought against women for crimes such as violation of public discipline and public morality. Especially in this context, it is seen that there are too many women in society who are accused of being alone with a man they are not married to.

In adultery cases, women are forbidden to testify under Article 45 of the 1992 Evidence Law. Article 232 of the Criminal Code allows for lenient punishments in so-called “honor crimes”. According to Article 42 of the Crimes and Penalty Law of 1994, a woman’s blood money is half the amount of a man’s and a woman’s life corresponds to half a man’s life (Aydın Koyuncu, 2016).

Considering the examples above, we can say that; This situation confirms the fact that the society in Yemen continues to be governed by Islamic culture. While the sexuality of women is called adultery, not using such a concept for men and the lack of sanctions is another indicator of inequality in the country.

Early Marriage of Yemeni Women

The early marriage of Yemeni women is another problem that needs to be addressed. In Yemen, women are forced into marriage as soon as they reach puberty. Efforts to increase the age limit of 15, which is brought to the age of marriage in the country to 17 for women, have been unsuccessful due to the obstacles of the conservative MPs in the parliament.

Yemen ranks 145th in the World Economic Forum's 2015 "Inequality Between Genders in the World" report (World Economic Forum, 2016).

Arwa Othman, a women’s rights activist in Yemen, mentioned an example of this situation in an interview; ‘After an 8-year-old Yemeni girl died of internal bleeding on her wedding night, Othman said the little girl was married to a forty-year-old man in the town of Meedi, in the town of Hajj in northwest Yemen, at the end of last week.

“Sexual intercourse on the wedding night ended with the death of the little girl,” Othman told Reuters. They took him to a clinic, but the paramedics couldn’t save his life. ” Othman argued that the authorities did not impose any sanctions on the girl’s family or her husband.

The Roles of Gender in Society and Women's Rights in Yemen
The Roles of Gender in Society and Women’s Rights in Yemen

In response to this incident, Human Rights Watch urged the Yemeni government in December 2011 to ban the marriage of girls under the age of 18, saying that these marriages deprive children of education and damage their health (Reuters, 2013).

One of the most severe forms of violence against women in Yemen is female circumcision. With this practice, it is thought that both the honor of women and the social order and patriarchal structure will be preserved. Circumcision is accepted as a symbol of virginity in societies where it is practiced. Female genital mutilation is one of the biggest violations of human rights. This violation of women’s rights also includes the violation of children’s rights.

Unicef’s Female Report

It is observed that this practice, which is a result of cultural pressure, causes serious trauma in children. According to UNICEF’s female circumcision report, 97 percent of circumcisions in Yemen are performed at home and 75 percent of them use a knife or razor, which poses a great danger (Unicef, 2020). The implementation of this intervention, which has no medical validity, leads to a large number of deaths. (Soyer, 2014).

Female circumcision is accepted as a part of culture and tradition in Yemen and is not seen as a form of violence. Health and reproductive rights are also important issues for women, but no legislation within the borders of Yemen protects women’s freedom to make their own decisions on these issues (Human Rights Watch, 2015).

Despite all these deaths, the ban on circumcision came to Yemen only in 2001. Even after Yemen was banned by the Ministry of Public Health, female genital mutilation remained a problem. It has been identified with Islamic culture and is still effectively maintained today (Soyer, 2014).

On the other hand, Yemeni women cannot take an equal place with men in the political and public sphere. The 1970 constitution of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen guaranteed the broad participation of Yemeni women in economic, social and political life, and work to increase their educational, cultural, professional and technical skills. Despite this (Aydın Koyuncu, 2016), women were not sufficiently represented in the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Yemen in practice.

The most obvious example of this is that there was only one female parliamentarian in the 301-member Yemen Parliament at the beginning of 2011, and 3 women in the 35-member National Unity Government, which was established in December 2011, after the departure of President Saleh (Europarl, 2014).

The Arab Spring in 2010, based on economic fundamentals, has given hope and encouragement to women in Yemen as well as Middle Eastern women.

The Roles of Gender in Society and Women's Rights in Yemen
The Roles of Gender in Society and Women’s Rights in Yemen

In Yemen, women played an important role in the construction of the future of their country during the Arab Spring, and they expressed their demands to continue this role in the future (Kurt, 2019).

This role is that they participate in various marches both as demonstrators and organizers, although they are subject to serious segregation in the public sphere. However, following the criticism of these protests by women with men on religious and moral grounds, the situation began to change in the name of Yemeni protesting women.

Violence and even harassment against women started in the square and as a result, the joint protests of women and men in the square gradually disappeared. With the increase in armed violence around the square in September 2011, women who participated in the protests were also discouraged.

The process that followed the Arab Spring resulted in their exclusion from politics and their exclusion in public spheres. On April 14, 2011, after President Saleh stated that Islam prohibits women and men from being together in public places and warned women to return to their homes, the next day thousands of women across the country took to the streets to reaffirm their right to peaceful assembly and public life.

For example, on October 17, 2011, a female demonstrator was killed by security forces during demonstrations in Ta’izz, 4 female doctors were arrested on 19 April 2011 for helping injured demonstrators, and numerous verbal abuse and beatings were reported.

On the other hand, the high participation of women in the protests has also increased the visibility of Yemeni women globally. In addition to Tevekkül Karman receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, positive developments such as the fact that Yemeni women started to appear in various political meetings and conferences (Aydın Koyuncu, 2016).

Some progress has been made since 2011, as the 2011 Uprising (Arab Spring) challenged the norm of limited participation of women in politics, with women representing more than a quarter of those attending the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) in 2014. (USAID Yemen Gender Assessment, January 2014) The most important example in this regard is female Yemeni journalists and activists.

One of them, Arva Abdo Osman, who was a minister for a period, states that women’s right to exist in the political and public sphere is getting worse and that all religious groups tend to suppress women’s rights.

As a matter of fact, women are not encouraged to participate in the political process except to vote in elections. Many women’s human rights organizations, such as the Sisters Arab Human Rights Forum, have stepped up their efforts to support women and their movements (Inclusivepeace, 2016). But despite the gains made, women’s political participation was suspended due to the ongoing conflict.

Despite so many violations of rights in Yemen, the United Nations is working on gender inequality imposed on women in Yemen. In doing so, it implements projects ranging from helping vulnerable women in detention centers to supporting women’s rights actors working for peace.

The Roles of Gender in Society and Women's Rights in Yemen
The Roles of Gender in Society and Women’s Rights in Yemen

According to the statement of the United Nations; ‘In the future, expand its partnership with all stakeholders, including UN Women, Yemen, Member States, UN agencies, local and international non-governmental organizations, in cooperation with relevant authorities.

UN Women announced that they will seek to expand long-term recovery and resilience programs in the country with humanitarian assistance to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls (UN Women, n.d.).

Another positive development in Yemen is that the United Nations decided to give the country the vice-chairmanship of the UN Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Agency for 2019. The agency’s mission is to narrow the gender gaps (Bar’el, 2019).


The patriarchal society and traditionalist management understanding in Yemen is one of the main reasons why women’s rights are ignored. These acts, which amount to violations of rights, have not been supported in any legal or political field.

It is seen that women are not given the right to speak in any area of ​​their lives. The fact that girls’ education is not compulsory has put them behind their daily life and prevented them from having knowledge about their rights.

The state administration continued to ignore women’s rights, also with the effect of the conflicts in the country. Based on all these, it can be said that Yemen was governed by the influence of Islamic culture. In addition to the fact that women could not file a lawsuit due to the pressure of society and culture, their inability to seek rights in the international arena also prevented them from gaining their rights.

The Arab Spring paved the way for women’s right to seek rights, facilitated the establishment of national communities and increased organizations. Although some international organizations have been working on women’s rights in Yemen, they could not reach a comprehensive agreement with the government of Yemen, and as a result, women were sentenced to oppression.

Although the state supports women with laws, there has been no progress in practice under the pressure of a traditional culture.

Researcher by Merve Göl