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Experts of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women Ask Yemen about Discrimination against Women and the Lack of Representation of Women in the Political Sphere

27 October 2021

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today concluded its consideration of the combined seventh and eighth periodic report of Yemen, with its Experts asking how Yemen was dealing with discrimination against women and the lack of representation of women in the political sphere.

Committee Experts asked the delegation to provide the Committee with information on the measures taken by the authorities to urgently address discrimination against women and girls, as well as information on accountability for human rights violations against them.  Did the Government foresee a full revision of all discriminatory laws once the new Constitution was adopted?  What measures was Yemen taking to address the lack of representation of women in the government, in the parliament and in the judiciary, especially at decision-making levels.  Was there any intention to introduce a minimum quota of 30 per cent women in the public and political sphere? 

The delegation of Yemen said that the present period was a crucial time for the women of Yemen.  The Government had sought to include women more in decision-making.  The Constitution guaranteed full equality when it came to voting and standing for elections.  Efforts to tackle discrimination were hampered by the current inability to hold parliamentary sessions.  As for access to justice, a modification of laws which discriminated against women had been carried out, including a law on the age of marriage.  Nationality could be given by Yemeni women to their foreign husbands.  Women had the right to education and did not have to pay school taxes. 

Nabil Abdul Hafeedh Maged Ebrahim, Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Legal Affairs and Human Rights and head of the delegation, presenting the report, said the coup d’état by the Houthi militias had had a destructive impact on Yemen, particularly harming women.  The challenges Yemen was facing were huge, yet the country had deployed enormous efforts to promote its legislative framework to fight gender discrimination.  Yemen was continuing to promote women’s conditions through public policies and programmes, such as poverty reduction strategies.  A national strategy combatted human trafficking and there was also a draft law being prepared.  The main task of the National Commission for Women was to implement a national strategy for women and include it in all national plans by the State.  Yemen’s Ministry of Human Rights had worked on a draft law on combatting violence against women and girls, but progress had stalled due to the conflict. 

The delegation of Yemen was made up of representatives of the National Commission for Women, the Ministry of Legal Affairs and Human Rights, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, and the Permanent Mission of Yemen to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s eightieth session is being held from 18 October to 12 November.  All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage.  The meeting summary releases prepared on the public meetings of the Committee can be found here.  The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.
The Committee will next meet in public at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 28 October, to start its consideration of the eighth periodic report of Indonesia (CEDAW/C/IDN/8). 
Report

The Committee has before it the combined seventh and eighth periodic report of Yemen (CEDAW/C/YEM/7-8).

Presentation of the Report

NABIL ABDUL HAFEEDH MAGED EBRAHIM, Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Legal Affairs and Human Rights of Yemen and head of the delegation, said Yemen had ratified the Convention in 1984 and was committed to the international human rights agreements it had ratified and to promoting the situation of women according to human rights principles.  The coup d’état by the Houthi militia had had a destructive impact on Yemen, particularly harming women.  Yemen’s Government had nevertheless endorsed continuous cooperation between State entities and civil society to protect human rights and was committed to involving women in peacebuilding. 

The situation of Yemeni women could not be discussed without discussing the coup d’état.  Due to the conflict, oil and fuel prices had increased, poverty had also increased, and there had been many violations of human rights and international human rights law.  Yemen faced a massive wave of displacement: internally displaced people numbered in the millions and over 10 million people in Yemen were in dire need of assistance.  Almost half of Yemeni families had lost their main source of income and poverty rates were above 70 per cent.  The rates of hunger were unprecedented and millions were suffering.  Child malnutrition rates in Yemen were the highest in the world and the food security situation was still deteriorating.  Over a million women needed treatment due to acute malnutrition.  Less than half of the healthcare facilities in Yemen were operational, lacking medicines and specialist equipment, and there had been a decrease in vaccine coverage since the beginning of the conflict.  Only around half the population had access to safe drinking water.  Access to school for boys and girls was also hampered by the conflict. 

The challenges Yemen was facing were huge, yet the country had deployed enormous efforts to promote its legislative framework to fight gender discrimination.  Yemen was continuing to promote women’s conditions through public policies and programmes, such as poverty reduction strategies.  A national strategy combatted human trafficking and there was also a draft law being prepared.  An advocacy workshop on the draft law had been organized in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration.  The main task of the National Commission for Women was to implement a national strategy for women and include it in all national plans by the State.  Yemen’s Ministry of Human Rights had worked on a draft law on combatting violence against women and girls, but progress had stalled due to the conflict.  The Government was planning to adopt a new policy to address internal displacement in Yemen and had also adopted a policy to manage camps for internally displaced people, which would be managed by the Government in cooperation with non-governmental organizations, national associations and local authorities. 

The Ministry of Human Rights received a lot of complaints every day from individuals and communities, including from internally displaced people and refugees.  A National Investigation Committee had looked into human rights violations.  Yemen had signed a joint plan of action with the United Nations in 2014, establishing a joint technical committee, and a protocol had been signed to protect children being recruited by armed groups.  The Yemeni Government affirmed that the Constitution and military laws criminalised violence against women by military forces.  The Government was also working to ensure that the whole population had flexible access to humanitarian aid. 

In cooperation with various stakeholders, the Government had responded to calls for dialogue.  Attempts were being made to put an end to the war, including the latest attempt by Saudi Arabia.  The Houthi militias were practicing a climate of oppression and violations and this was hampering attempts at peace talks.  A Houthi brigade was responsible for kidnapping many girls and women, and the Ministry of Human Rights had investigated such cases.  The Houthi militias had also established various practices such as women and men not being in the same room, and blackmailed women through false allegations.  Some parents were compelled to marry off their girls due to poverty.  Yemen’s many challenges were compounded by the ongoing war.  Yet the Government believed in the importance of supporting women’s rights in line with the Convention, and Yemen looked forward to hearing Committee Members’ valuable contributions, and to a constructive dialogue that would result in concluding observations which the Government would study.  Yemen was committed to overcoming the obstacles and challenges it faced. 

Questions by Committee Experts

NAHLA HAIDAR, Committee Vice-Chairperson, asked the delegation to provide the Committee with information on the measures taken by the authorities to urgently address discrimination against women and girls, as well as information on accountability for human rights violations against them.  Could the delegation also provide information on how women and girls were included in political participation and government?  The Constitution did not recognise equality between women and men and described women as “sisters of men” with rights and duties as guaranteed by Islamic law (Shari’a).  Did the Government foresee a full revision of all discriminatory laws once the new Constitution was adopted?

NICOLE AMELINE, Committee Member, noted that Yemen had committed to a process of transitional justice; how were violations of the rights of women documented, and how were the victims cared for?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation noted that the present period was a crucial time for women of Yemen.  The Government had sought to include women more in decision-making.  As for access to justice, a modification of laws which discriminated against women had been carried out, including a law on the age of marriage.  Nationality could be given by Yemeni women to their foreign husbands.  Women had the right to education and did not have to pay school taxes.  A National Plan for Peace and Security had yet to be adopted due to the crisis.  Several workshops dealing with women’s human rights had also been carried out.  In response to a question about the documentation of violations against women’s rights, the delegation explained that a database containing information was available in all governorates, and that specialised units in police stations received complaints from women. 

As for difficulties in access to justice, Yemen had tried to find solutions, establishing an ad-hoc directorate in the Ministry of Justice, and also opening complaints offices in the Human Rights Ministry.  As for compensation, Yemen had paid compensation to women liberated from Houthi militias and jails. 

Questions by Committee Experts

BANDANA RANA, Committee Member, asked the delegation for information on Yemen’s plans to ensure protection for women human rights defenders and activists.  Were women represented on the ad-hoc Committee fighting the COVID-19 pandemic?

HIROKO AKIZUKI, Committee Member, noted that State parties needed temporary special measures in areas where de facto or substantive equality between men and women was not achieved.  Did Yemen have any intention to introduce any temporary measures in the areas of education, health, or the participation of women in political and public life?

Responses from the Delegation

The delegation said the Women’s National Committee was not well-activated in Aden due to the instability.  Women were represented on the COVID-19 pandemic Committee.  The National Investigation Committee included three women out of eight members and had prepared 10 reports so far, focusing on women and girls as victims of crimes and offenses.  Its mandate had been renewed for two years, and it was supported by the Government and the international community.  It looked into all cases of violations and abuses and had submitted 3,000 cases to the public prosecutor’s office.  In response to questions about Yemen’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the delegation noted that the Government had ensured the distribution of medication and ensured some vaccines, though the situation in the country remained very difficult. 

Questions by Committee Experts

NÁELA GABR, Committee Expert, said the practice of female genital mutilation was a cultural practice which had nothing to do with Islam.  Were laws against it enforced in Yemen?  She observed that times of war and conflict could lead to a de-prioritisation of issues concerning women’s rights alongside an increased focus on peace and security issues. 

DALIA LEINARTE, Committee Expert, asked the delegation to address reports of child slavery and trafficking of women and children.  Further, could the delegation describe the situation around prostitution in Yemen? 

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that legal efforts aimed to set the age of marriage to 18, but the war had caused backsliding on those efforts, as well as efforts to ban female genital mutilation, as people worried for their daughters and hence women were married to protect their futures.  Yemen had laws based on international norms to protect the rights of children and women.  A ministerial decree adopted in 2001 banned female genital mutilation in clinics and hospitals.  An anti-prostitution law allowed for prison sentences and fines for those exploiting women in that field. 

Questions by Committee Experts

HIROKO AKIZUKI, Committee Member, asked what measures Yemen was taking to address the lack of representation of women in the government, in the parliament and in the judiciary, especially at decision-making levels.  Was there any intention to introduce a minimum quota of 30 per cent women in the public and political sphere?  As for women’s participation in peace talks, did Yemen have any intention to introduce a quota system there to achieve women’s participation in peace negotiations, the political process, conflict resolution, national reconciliation and reconstruction efforts?

ANA PELAEZ NARVAEZ, Committee Vice-Chairperson, asked whether Yemen intended to undertake reform to eliminate discrimination based on gender in its legislation on nationality?  She noted that according to legal provisions, people with a disability could not acquire Yemeni citizenship.  Did Yemen intend to repeal the article of the law which discriminated against children with disabilities?

Replies from the Delegation

The delegation said the Constitution guaranteed full equality when it came to voting and standing for elections.  Efforts to tackle discrimination were hampered by the current inability to hold parliamentary sessions.  As for intermarriage between Yemeni nationals and foreigners, Yemen aimed to ensure reciprocal treatment with how foreign States administered such questions.  In the past, a Yemeni woman married to a non-Yemeni man was prevented from giving her nationality to her children.  Now, it had been agreed that she could grant nationality to her children, and the law would be referred to the Parliament in the near future.  An important and positive step was the addition of an article noting that if a women with a foreign husband divorced or became responsible for her children, they would be considered Yemeni until the age of 18, at which point they could choose between keeping their Yemeni nationality or taking the nationality of their father. 

Follow-up Questions from Committee Experts

Committee Experts asked follow-up questions about details around women’s rights to nationality in Yemen, as well as whether quotas for women’s participation would be implemented in specific instances, as well as Yemen’s intentions to join various international mechanisms.  What was the status of a law against human trafficking?  Was religion a factor in a foreign-nationality husband’s acquisition of Yemeni nationality?

Replies from the Delegation

The delegation agreed with the Committee that women’s participation in peace talks was important to achieve a real and lasting peace.  As for trafficking, thousands of children had been recruited by the Houthi militia, and the Government wanted to ensure that there was no recruitment of children into the national army.  As for the linkage of people with special needs with nationality, the delegation said attention would be directed toward the situation, and it was to be hoped there would be amendments soon.  In Islam, a Muslim woman could not marry a non-Muslim man, yet the law had no such preconditions. 

Questions from Committee Experts

ARUNA DEVI NARAIN, Committee Rapporteur, asked about the situation of the right to education for women and girls.  How would the authorities address the relatively high levels of illiteracy among women and girls?  Millions of children were out of school due to the conflict; what would be done to ensure girls completed their education? 

Replies by the Delegation

Yemen was committed to education, the delegation said, yet some areas were under the control of militia groups which did not let children attend school and did not pay teachers’ salaries.  Poor families were no longer in a position to send their children to school because they could not afford school fees.  Houthi militias had declared that they did not recognise the COVID-19 pandemic, and mentioning it was banned.  The militias had also refused to receive vaccines and to admit that the COVID-19 pandemic existed. 

Questions from Committee Experts

NATASHA STOTT DESPOJA, Committee Expert, asked about labour and work.  Could the delegation clarify whether women could go to work without the permission of their husbands?  Was Yemen considering increasing maternity leave to match the globally recognised minimum standard of 14 weeks’ paid leave?  Which mechanisms existed against discrimination against women in the workforce?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said that concerning labour, salaries were the result of work alone and there was no discrimination allowed.  Yemen offered two months of paid maternity leave, and three months’ leave following caesarean births.  As for the economic empowerment of women, gender equality was an area of focus for the Government, which aimed to put together strategies to tackle those issues.  Women could sign their own contracts and manage their own property.  The Ministry of Social Affairs had held meetings aiming to address issues such as salaries.  In that framework, there were some relative differences in salaries, but that was not due to discrimination, but the diplomas held by the workers, and how long they had been in their posts. 

The delegation explained that equality in law was a duty, and work was ongoing to change societal attitudes in Yemen.  Despite the war, the Government was attempting to take measures against discrimination at the grassroots level. 

Questions by Committee Experts

FRANCELINE TOE BOUDA, Committee Expert, asked about healthcare in Yemen and noted the devastating effect of the conflict on women’s health in the country, including a cholera epidemic and from hunger.  What did Yemen intend to do to establish an effective and free healthcare system, allowing full access for women and girls?  Did Yemen intend to decriminalise abortion, and was free contraception provided? 

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation answered that as regards the emergency commission addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, many measures had been taken, including establishing an oxygen plant.  Brochures and leaflets had also been distributed.  There had been some progress on reproductive health before the war, but unfortunately services had dropped due to the conflict.  Women had been involved in decision-making, and family-planning services were provided.  Yemen cooperated with donor countries and civil society to improve reproductive health, including in the fields of female genital mutilation and for women living with HIV/AIDS.  The authorities had conducted awareness-raising sessions on the right to health.  Abortion was prohibited by domestic law, except in cases of genetic problems with the foetus.  There was no abortion permitted in cases of rape, as it was contrary to Islamic Shari’a. 

Questions by Committee Experts

NICOLE AMELINE, Committee Member, asked about financing for micro-enterprises, noting that banks and development funds had allowed for such financing. 

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said it had a project for giving small micro credits to women, which were called “white credits” and were offered without interest charges. 

Questions by Committee Members

RHODA REDDOCK, Committee Member, asked what kinds of infrastructure, educational and health programmes focused on rural women during the conflict period?  Were rural women a specific focus?  They were important producers of food, she observed.  She was concerned that women could risk being imprisoned due to crimes committed against them, citing instances where victims of rape and violence had been detained.  Was it true that a woman’s testimony counted for half that of a man?  Noting that the World Health Organization had found 15 per cent of Yemen’s population were living with disabilities, she asked for an update on the national disability strategy and asked whether the special needs of women and girls with disabilities were part of that strategy. 

The Committee had received reports that women human rights defenders faced threats and stigmatisation, and were subject to arbitrary arrests.  What measures had been put in place to protect women human rights defenders, journalists and members of non-governmental organizations? 

The Committee had been shocked to learn slavery still existed in Yemen, she said, asking what the plan was to enforce the ban on slavery?  How could all enslaved, marginalised, and rural women be assured birth certificates?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said Yemen had a national strategy for the empowerment of rural women, which had run from 2011 to 2015.  Some rural production projects had been run in the past, but the war had interfered with their implementation.  As for people with disabilities, and Black Yemeni people, a project aimed to ensure there were job opportunities for those groups.  It was true that Yemen had difficulties in giving access to public services to women, due to the ongoing conflict. 

In response to questions about what happened to women victims of crime, the delegation underscored its concern about the practices of militias.  The Houthis had subjected women to torture, rape, and enforced disappearance.  They had also charged women with prostitution.  Yemen was in contact with representatives of the Red Cross to reach places of detention, as those who had been released from such camps had told horrific stories about those places. 

There was no guardianship over women in Yemeni law, but there were societal patterns.  The Houthis had imposed clothing codes on women which hindered them leaving the house, as groups like the Taliban had also done. 

Slavery had ended with Yemen’s revolution of 1960 and had been forbidden by Presidential decree, the delegation said.  Slavery practices might have been in place prior to that, but slavery was criminalised under Yemeni law and totally forbidden. 

Turning to the issue of marginalised persons, the delegation said there were categories of people who were outside the mainstream, and a consultative committee had representatives from those groups.  Over 50 non-governmental organizations aimed to integrate those categories into society, but there was no discrimination in Yemen’s laws.  Laws were also in place providing health care for pregnant women in jail, according to a doctor’s advice.  Women in prison received all necessary services, including primary healthcare.  Most women and girls, once released, returned to their families. 

Follow-up Questions by Committee Members

RHODA REDDOCK, Committee Member, asked whether it was the case that all human rights violations were occurring in Houthi-held areas?  On the matters of discrimination and slavery, she noted that having laws was not enough; implementation of those laws was key. 

TAMADER AL-RAMMAH, Committee Expert, asked about the situation of women who had served their sentences in prison.  Was it the case that women could only return to their families with the assent of their guardian?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said that the authorities did indeed wish to issue birth certificates to all, because they offered important data for development plans, yet some rural populations resisted them.  In some areas, now controlled by the Houthi militias, cases of slavery had been found.  The vast majority of human rights violations against women were indeed taking place in areas controlled by militias, as had been reported to the United Nations.  The Government did not withhold any information, and had previously submitted its Universal Periodic Review report to the Human Rights Council. 

In response to the question about women leaving prison, the problem was with customs and traditions.  Due to stigma, some families refused to receive their family members leaving prison.  That was why shelters had been established. 

Questions by Committee Members

MARION BETHEL, Committee Member, asked the delegation what measures the authorities could take to ensure women could flee conflict areas?  When would the authorities abolish the cultural institution of guardianship?  Were there plans to restrict polygamy?  How were women protected from forced marriages?  As for divorce, the rules differed between how men and women could demand and receive it.  What did the authorities do about that?  There were also different standards applied when it came to divorced parents’ custody of children.  Women received a smaller share of inheritance than men did; in practice, women in rural areas were often not given the inheritance due to them.  How would Yemen bring this situation into line with international standards?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that the inheritance situation was a problem, particularly in rural areas.  Through awareness-raising, the authorities tried to encourage women to sue to protect their rights, as courts protected women’s rights.  Women had the right to authorise their own marriage.  As for freedom of movement, Yemen had raised the issue in the Security Council, as it was an issue which was violated by the Houthi militias.  Women, like men, could choose to go to court for divorce.  The personal status code also covered divorce, the end of a marriage and inheritance.  Women had the right to refuse and accept marriage and divorce, except in some rural areas where social and cultural pressure continued.  That was exceptional, however.  Under Yemeni law, the father must ask for the daughter’s consent in cases of divorce and marriage.  The two spouses could choose to end a marriage, and the children could choose which parent they wished to live with, if they were the age required by law.  Child custody was granted to the mother, except in some circumstances.  Pursuant to Shari’a law, quotas for inheritance were established, and women inherited according to that.  But that did not mean that women’s share was reduced.  Shari’a law did allow for polygamy, but the law laid down many conditions, including that the new wife had to be aware that the man was already married. 

Concluding Remarks

NABIL ABDUL HAFEEDH MAGED EBRAHIM, Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Legal Affairs and Human Rights of Yemen and head of the delegation, thanked the Chair and Members of the Committee for their questions.  The aim of the exercise was to improve Yemen’s legislation and the condition of women in the country, and to put an end to all forms of discrimination against women.  The delegation welcomed the Committee’s observations and would continue its work in the area.  The war would end, but it was not over yet. 

GLADYS ACOSTA VARGAS, Chair of the Committee, thanked the delegation for their participation, noting that the dialogue had allowed the Committee to understand the serious challenges facing women and girls in Yemen.  The concluding observations would be sent through Yemen’s Permanent Mission. 

 

Link: Experts of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women Ask Yemen about Discrimination against Women and the Lack of Representation of Women in the Political Sphere | UN GENEVA

 

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