Written By: Elena White
Article Date: Jul 5, 2012 - 10:00:49 PM
As proven by the flurry of reports on violence against women, VAW has become over the past 20 years an increasingly important topic in terms of health, human rights and development issue.
Yemen is a traditional society where prevailing cultural attitudes bestow women low status in the family as well as in the community.
Women in Yemen are subjected to various forms of violence, including physical and psychological abuse within the family, deprivation of education, early marriage, forced marriage, exchanged marriage, exaggerated dowries lead to missed opportunity for marriage, sexual harassment, abuse and violence, restrictions and control over freedom of movement, exclusion from private and public decision-making roles and processes, forced pregnancy, polygamy, denial of inheritance, deprivation of utilizing from health services, and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).
Activists have longed complained of the lack of state motivation in regards to VAW, all saying that the government needed to implement national campaign and set up workshops which would help bring about a social behavior-shift towards women in Yemen.
Under such a patriarchal society women are more often than not considered second class citizens, forced to live in the shadows of men, conditioned to be silent victims. Because if the problem lies in the perpetuation of male violence towards women, it is women lack of self-worth which perversely allows abuse to continue, teaching young girls that they amount to nothing more than an abject which men can dispose of as they wish.
For example a strong preference for male children, as well as tolerance of violent/aggressive behavior amongst boys, male adolescents, and men towards females allow future male generations to believe it is socially acceptable to victimize women. Female children are often punished if they attempt to defend themselves against such behavior.
These attitudes and practices are prevalent not only in the home, but also in schools, social institutes and workplaces. National and local media tend to encourage and reinforce the tendency for such discriminating acts and behaviors. “If anything is really to change in Yemen, the state will need to criminalize VAW,” said Amal Hassan a woman activist who herself was victim of marital abuse.
Vulnerable Groups subject to violence A study conducted by Human Rights Watch established in 2010 that marginalized, poor and rural women are most susceptible to violence. While conditions of poverty tend to exacerbate forms and incidences of violence against women, rural women are also forced to carry out the bulk of agricultural work and physical labor.
Women of the marginalized group, Akhdam, are also more susceptible to discrimination and violence as this group is stigmatized as a social outcast. However, there is a lack of information on the VAW in this group. VAW Refugees Social workers working with refugees noted that most of all refugee women were among the most vulnerable categories of individuals facing violence in Yemen.
The Somali and Ethiopian caseload particularly, are first faced with violence at the point of departure from their country of origin, and further targeted during their boat trip to Yemen. During their stay in Yemen, they are faced with continued discrimination and abuse.
Moreover a study conducted in 2008 by the UNHCR in Yemen established that a significant proportion of the Somali refugee population - the largest refugee population in Yemen - falls into the vulnerable category of single females and single mothers.
As in many other countries where violence against women is widespread, domestic abuse constitute the majority of cases. The second most common form of violence reported is rape targeting mostly adult females as well as minors.
Since rape in Yemen is rarely reported to the authorities as victims fear reprisal and social stigma, most perpetrators will go unpunished, leading to a certain normalization of the phenomenon. Woman activist Hassan told the Yemen Observer that “it was the state responsibility to severely punish sexual abuse against women.”
Early or forced marriages Because early or forced marriages, especially among Yemen’s tribal community is not seen as a form of violence against women, girls and women continue to suffer in silence, prisoners within their own home and families.
In recent years, Yemen’s issue with child brides came to the forefront of the media as brave little girls decided to take drastic actions to reclaim their freedom. Some like Nujood – made famous when she demanded from a court to annul her marriage to a men 15 years her elder when she was herself only 10-years-old – others sadly chose suicide to end their nightmare.
Female genital mutilation and cutting - FGM/C – is also a source of great concerns for rights activists as the practice continue to be wide spread in a few Yemeni provinces and among Somali refugees.
While there is no law against FGM/C in Yemen, a ministerial decree effective January 9, 2001 prohibits the practice of FGM/C\ in both government and private health facilities. However, a law prohibiting FGM/C would only reinforce the efforts in banning this harmful practice. Female prisoners Women prisoners in Yemen face much harsher living conditions than their male counterparts, having to suffer through a lack of food, health care, basic hygiene facilities, beds, blankets, ventilation, and water supplies.
Furthermore, many female prisoners are accompanied by their children, who often go without adequate food and medicine. It is not uncommon for female prisoners to be subjected to sexual violence and groping by male guards. Most cases of course remain unreported as fear keep force women to retrieve into silence.
But if activists are now trying to tackle physical violence against women by challenging the government and demanding that new laws be established, it is Yemen’s psychological position towards women which need to change most of all. Women in Yemen do not feel socially safe as their status almost always depends on the will of a man.
When married, many fear that their husband will either abandon them to live with another or simply divorce them, leaving them to face financial hardships.
In tribes, women are under constant pressure to give birth to male babies as to retain their position within the home, knowing that if they fail to uphold social expectations they will be discarded as shun away. If Yemen is to become the civil state its longs to be, it needs to change its attitude towards women.
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