Thursday, 17 October 2013

Women’s rights advocates: Secure women’s rights through the constitution

The Yemeni Scholars Body recently issued a statement condemning efforts to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women. As Yemenis enter a new transitional period following the end of the country’s comprehensive National Dialogue Conference (NDC), women’s rights activists say the time is now to push for guaranteed protections and equality of women. The way to do that, they say, is through the constitution, slated to be drafted following the end of the NDC.

The statement from the Yemeni Scholars Body said that a “woman cannot be a man’s equal and the government should not adhere to Western calls that aim to corrupt Yemeni family morals, to spread vice, homosexuality and immoral relations,” the statement said.

The statement objected to gender integration in schooling, compulsory education for girls and the restructuring of curricula to include gender issues in studies.

Though the constitution says that all citizens are equal before the law, article 40 of the constitution also says that the blood money of a woman is half that of a man, meaning if you unjustly kill a woman, you would only be obligated to pay her family half of what it would cost if you killed her brother.

Fatima Salah, a press and human rights activist, told the Yemen times that “femininity is inferior in Yemen. The law does not recognize that a woman has a soul like a man. The law does not recognize that women deserve the same blood money as a man.”

Salah said this exists because entrenched customs and traditions view women inferiorly.

Dr. Ashwaq Ali Salem bin Buraik, assistant professor of international law at the College of Law at Aden University conducted an analytical study about discrimination against Yemeni women in the law.

She said the Yemeni constitution is the only guarantee of equality and that national legislation should not contradict the constitution or its principles, she said.

Rania, a Yemeni national married to a Sudanese man, says she has had many troubles stemming from her marriage to a non-national.

The Yemeni law does not entitle her two children to Yemeni nationality and requires her to pay visa residency fees for them if she wishes to visit Yemen with her family. The children of a Yemeni man married to a foreign woman retain their father’s nationality unless they choose to give it up for another nationality.

A Yemeni woman married to an Indian man discovered that she owed the Interior Ministry YR3 million (around $14,000) when she and her family were preparing to leave for India. Non-nationals who overstay their visa owe the Yemeni government YR300 per day, about $1.50. Interior Minister Abdulqadir Kahtan cancelled 90 percent of the fees, leaving the family to owe YR300,000, about $1,400.

According to a report by the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), in collaboration with the Women’s Forum for Studies and Training in Yemen, Yemeni law continues to discriminate against women. The report was prepared for the 75th session of the Human Rights Commission.

According to the report, some provisions in Yemeni law allow for domestic violence.

“Law enforcement lack vital skills and legislative frameworks to appropriately respond to complaints of domestic violence,” the report said. “The dominant view amongst police officers is that women that report domestic violence cases are indecent. Several police officers who were asked their views about violence against women said that a respectable woman should tolerate assaults committed against her by family members, particularly by husbands. They also said that much of the violence is a result of women ‘misbehaving’.

Since the issue of blood money was raised in 2010, the Women’s National Committee (WNC) has worked hard to convince members of parliament to reform the law, but most have objected to any amendments.

Sana’a University law student Intisar Saleh told the Yemen Times that she feels that Yemeni women are treated like second-class citizens. Yemen has endorsed several international conventions and should respect that, she said.

“International law is supreme and we are optimistic about the committee established to reform the law following the end of the National Dialogue Conference,” she said.

Another law student, Weam Abdulrahman, wondered if the government realized that the human rights conventions that it endorsed prohibited all discrimination against women.

“Even if the government understands these conventions, there are only a few political parties willing to support and implement them,” Abdulrahman said.

Belquis Al-Salami, head of the Murooj Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms, said the political mood towards women changes often, sometimes championing women and other times discriminating against them.

Al-Salami said that women played a leading role during the popular uprising in Yemen but were marginalized following the reconciliation between political parties.

“Women were given 30 percent representation in the NDC. We hope the Constitution Reformulation Committee will apply international conventions endorsed by Yemen—including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—to raise women’s status.

“We also call on them to apply the provisions of the Convention to Eliminate all Forms of Violence Against Women, the Beijing Work Plan, the Elimination of Violence against Women Declaration and the SIDAW Agreement,” Al-Salami said.

Experts say the time frame for pushing through legislation and rapid change could be narrow, and that the time is now to establish institutions to protect women and to guarantee those rights by enshrining them in the constitution.

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