How Have the Houthis Changed the Life of Women in Yemen?
10:27 GMT 18.05.2022 (Updated: 10:58 GMT 05.03.2023)
© AP Photo / Hani MohammedA supporter of Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, with an ammunition belt placed on his head attends a celebration of Moulid al-nabi, the birth of Islam's prophet Muhammad in Sanaa, Yemen, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019
© AP Photo / Hani Mohammed
The Houthi rebels that came to power in Yemen in 2015 control the north of the country, where most of the Yemeni population resides. A local activist suggests that they have been running the state with an iron fist, persecuting women and depriving them of their basic rights to free movement and education.
A recent study revealed by the United Nations Development Programme showed that 77 percent of the 4.3 million displaced people in Yemen were women and children and that 26 percent of displaced households are now headed by women, as opposed to 9 percent before the war.
The report also stated that women have been suffering disproportionately from gender-based violence, poverty and violations of basic rights.
No More Rights
Sameera, a Sanaa-based women's rights activist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said that women's development has stopped since the Houthis - a militant group associated with Iran - came to power in 2015.
"Before the war, women of Yemen had seen some progress," she said in a Zoom chat.
"At that time politicians were working on a new constitution, and the committee that drafted it had several women, who have been trying to pass laws that would improve women's standing such as increasing their marital age or involving them in politics. The arrival of the Houthis has frozen these and other initiatives," she added.
Since they came to power, the Houthis, who adhere strictly to Sharia law, have implemented a number of changes in the society. Women have been banned from travelling alone. Those who want to leave their house, require a "mahram" (Arabic for a male companion/chaperone). Women are also not allowed to work in hotels, restaurants or any other sphere where the sexes mingle.
Women’s education is still allowed but all sorts of restrictions have been imposed. Women are forbidden to mix with men, and they can neither talk with them nor shake hands. They are expected to dress modestly. Violations are punishable - sometimes by imprisonment.
According to research conducted by Watani Al Emarat Foundation and obtained by Sputnik, a UAE-based NGO, more than 1,800 women have been jailed between the start of the war in 2015 and 2021, almost 300 of whom were female activists and 246 of whom were relief and humanitarian workers. All of them have been dispersed across the 203 prisons and 125 secret facilities operated by the militia.
"I am sure that in the future we will see more restrictions and punishments imposed on women," said Sameera. "And the problem is that those measures will inevitably lead to the deterioration of women's status and harm their quality of life," she added.
No Light in Sight
That deterioration is already taking shape in the public sphere. According to Sameera, local NGOs that used to advocate for women's rights are no longer catering to their needs, fearing repercussions. Many offices won't give women a chance and prefer male workers simply because of their ability to travel freely.
"The problem is that I don't see how this situation is going to change," said Sameera.
"As long as this religious group is in power, women will not enjoy any rights. But excluding them is impossible because they are part of our society. So the only way forward is to engage them and establish a transitional government that will also include secular parties. And that will definitely balance the situation."