Women and Violence in Yemeni Legislation. A conversation with Lawyer Huda Al-Sarare
Huda al-Sarare is a lawyer and director-general for women, children, and minors' affairs in the Ministry of Justice. She is also the president of (Defa’a) foundation for rights and freedoms, and works in monitoring in the National Committee to investigate allegations of human rights violations.
Huda talks to us about her career in the humanitarian and legal field as well as the legal status of Yemeni women when it comes to abuse and violence.
How did your career begin in the human rights and legal field? What is the nature of your work?
I started human rights work when I joined as a member of the Yemeni Women’s Union and worked in most of their activities and learned about human rights violations with regard to abused women and how to provide legal aid and raise awareness. When I graduated from the College of Sharia and Law, I joined the legal team directly and contributed to the defence of women who face violence in prisons and in society (personal status issues). I also participated in community activities, international events and conferences, and worked in monitoring, documentation and training which granted me a lot of experience in this field.
In addition to that, I joined as an observer in the National Committee to investigate allegations of human rights violations, and worked in the governmental field which added a lot to my experience. Not to mention that my cooperation with international organizations opens many horizons for me in the human rights field.
What are the most prominent issues that you work with regarding women, and why do you care about these issues in particular?
The most prominent issues I work with are:
- Providing legal aid to women who cannot get justice, especially women prisoners. In addition to coordinating with civil society organizations to provide referrals through which services are provided to women survivors of violence.
- Training women survivors of violence in financial education and human rights.
- Advocating for women’s issues regarding the legal gaps and discriminatory laws which are based on wrong interpretations from law enforcement agencies.
- Raising awareness of UN resolutions and agreements related to women’s rights.
What are the main issues that Yemeni women suffer from in the legal aspect? In your opinion, what are the most unfair laws against women that must be changed or eliminated?
Despite national legislations and the number of agreements and resolutions that Yemen has signed regarding women, it remains just ink on paper with nothing actually implemented or harmonized with national legislation. Furthermore, courts do not take the texts that serve women in international agreements, and this is why this aspect is exploited and violence is practiced against women by standing with the man, especially if the violator is the guardian of the woman. This is clearly demonstrated in the violation of women's rights within the family (domestic violence) and this type violence is the most deadly type because it is silent even when the issues reach the official authorities.
Therefore, the law takes the man’s side, as we are in a patriarchal society and the laws came in translation of this reality. So, if we ask ourselves who is writing the legislation? Is there any participation of women in writing laws? The answer is well known, there are no women in this regard; it is considered a luxury. Despite the necessity of involving women in preparing laws and legislations and we have many qualified women experts on the legal side, as Yemen does not lack that.
There are discriminatory articles in some laws, such as the Personal Status Law, the Crime and Penal Code, the Civil Service Law and the Labor Law, and the Nationality Law. Although the Yemeni constitution is very clear, so were the international agreements that Yemen has signed on.
So, if we ask ourselves who is writing the legislation? Is there any participation of women in writing laws? The answer is well known, there are no women in this regard; it is considered a luxury.
Although there is no law that explicitly criminalizes violence against women, can women go to court if they are subjected to violence? Do cases of violence receive a response from the judiciary?
Of course, if a woman is exposed to violence, she can turn to law enforcement, but the question is how far do the authorities respond to these reports or complaints? Are there emergency departments and human rights services in law enforcement agencies to receive reports of violence and refer them to their correct course, so that it does not affect or pressure women when they are subjected to family violence or violence by their guardian and present them to the forensic doctor and respond to the violence they are exposed to?
The noteworthy thing is the absence of female staff in the centers of the police stations that receive reports and complaints of violence against women, and this actually hinders women from reporting violence to the police stations because it is part of the culture of shame and prohibition, and women may be killed or physically attacked for doing that. The work of civil society organizations is considered minor and it is not sufficient without the presence of state institutions that implement human rights standards and provide and facilitate women's access to justice and to their rights.
Of course, if a woman is exposed to violence, she can turn to law enforcement. But the question is how far do the authorities respond to these reports or complaints? Are there emergency departments and human rights services in law enforcement agencies to receive reports of violence and refer them to their correct course?
Since you work in the humanitarian field, what are some organizations that Yemeni women who are survivors of violence can resort to? And what kind of services do these organizations provide?
Recently, many civil society organizations have emerged that provide aid and assistance to women who are survivors of violence, alongside the Yemeni Women’s Union and its branches across the governorates of the republic. These services include referrals and legal aid but are limited to short times as they depend on international funding of these organizations' projects and the services stop as soon as the funding stops. This is why we must say that activities and projects for women must be institutionalized either through the state institutions concerned with providing legal aid such as the Ministry of Justice, Social Affairs and Labor and the Ministry of Human Rights, or through the branches of Yemeni Women's Union in coordination with the relevant state institutions.
Are there any homes or shelters in Yemen for women who are facing violence and have no shelter?
There are shelters for temporary periods in some branches of the Yemeni Women Union in Sana'a, Aden and Al-Hodeidah and Taiz. But they are limited in support due to lack of sustainability in funding. Therefore, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, the Ministry of Human Rights and the National Committee for Women should adopt the idea of establishing shelters for abused women who do not have any shelter so that they are not subjected to more violence and systematic crimes such as human trafficking and psychological and physical abuse. United Nations organizations that support women's projects should also be directed to the idea of establishing a shelter in the capital Aden or Sanaa as a model.
What do you think of the legal status of women before and after the current conflict? Note that before the conflict many of us had hope for the outcomes of the national dialogue, but it was not implemented.
It is known that women in Yemen were suffering violations of human rights law prior to the armed conflict, but now after Yemen entered into armed conflict, women’s rights are being violated in both international humanitarian laws and human rights laws. Even national legislation was disrupted by conflict, and law enforcement is no longer free to deal with women's issues. Rates of violations and crimes against women have risen as women are one of the vulnerable groups who bear double responsibility and the burden during the armed conflict. In spite of the participation of women in many humanitarian fields and voluntary work during armed conflicts and are making so much effort to bring peace to society, they are completely excluded when it comes to sharing power or peace talks and they are not given the 30% quota in decision making positions as indicated by the national dialogue.
In your opinion, what is the role of local and international organizations in improving the legal status of women in Yemen?
First, by supporting the state institutions that should provide services to women in order to institutionalize and sustain these services and monitor the progress of projects and activities by civil society organizations working in the field. Also by directing international organizations to support projects that work on the actual needs of women in the fields of health, education, security, poverty reduction, support for rural women, literacy and advancing the level of Yemeni women in all fields. And pressurizing the state and political entities in the Yemeni arena to support the participation of women to decision-making positions and commitment to the percentage (30%) specified in the outcomes of the national dialogue, even though it should be 50%. In addition to involving women with experience and competence in writing legal legislations, changing unfair articles in laws, and most importantly, establishing a law against violence against women.
How can society and voluntary projects (such as the Yemeni feminist movement) support Yemeni women, especially in the area of violence and discriminatory laws?
- By raising awareness of all areas that support Yemeni women and advancing their knowledge of their political, economic, and social rights.
- By advocating issues related to Yemeni women and creating awareness in local and international public opinion about them.
- Presenting strategic plans that support women's support through a specialized team and communicating them to the responsible authorities.
- Editing articles and topics that raise awareness of Yemeni women.
- Using online platforms and websites to support women's issues and monitor and document most of the violations that Yemeni women are exposed to during the war.
Do you have any story or example of a woman who has survived violence and has gone to court (or to an organization) and succeeded in filing a case and continuing her life normally?
We have many women who go beyond being a role model and set an example for success of breaking the violence that they have suffered from. If we look at Yemeni women in general and the situation they live in, they face daily challenges from living scarcity and confiscating her right to live during the armed conflict, to forced displacement from their villages, their living environment, and risks faced by the siege imposed by the parties to the conflict. However, she exerts effort, increases giving, preserves her family and children, and bears double the burden. In my opinion, all Yemeni women are a success story in some way, but the mothers and wives of the arbitrarily arrested, abductees and forcibly disappeared are the biggest success story in my eyes because they are real activists who are neither tired nor despaired in demanding and raising their voices in the face of the parties to the conflict every day in every forum and every occasion, demanding to know the fate of their children and their families and bearing the burdens and risks facing them.
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