The commemoration of International Women's Day comes, and the situation of women in Yemen is at its worst. After eight years of devastating conflict, they have borne the brunt of violations and abuses that vividly expose the brutality and harshness of war.
On this occasion SAM organization issues a special report titled "Discriminatory Restrictions" on the violations and restrictions targeting Yemeni women. The report sheds light on the overall violations faced by women in Yemen during the ongoing war since September 2014, with a primary focus on the practices of the Houthi group in restricting the freedom and movement of Yemeni women. It also highlights the imposition of numerous constraints on their personal and public freedoms. The exploitation of the security situation in Yemen by this group, along with their control over the public sphere to impose their own religious and traditional agendas on women and society, has led to a noticeable and unacceptable restriction of women's freedom, depriving them of many of their rights as human beings and active members and advocates in society. This violates international agreements, the constitution, and Yemeni law, which uphold the dignity of Yemeni individuals and guarantee their freedom of expression, assembly, and movement.
The Houthi group has exploited many legal provisions based on customs and traditions that grant men privileges and extensive guardianship rights over women. This has turned women into a marginalized group, depriving them of their public significance and the enjoyment of fundamental rights guaranteed to them under the Yemeni constitution and Islamic law, including the right to movement and travel. This deliberate action aims to restructure Yemeni society, where Yemeni women have achieved many political rights and asserted their identity associated with independence and confidence in public affairs management, in line with the intellectual group's orientations. This has deprived Yemeni women of many accomplishments and pushed them backward, subjecting them to inequality and discrimination based on gender and limiting their roles to domestic and tribal roles that contradict the Yemeni constitution.
Despite the legal and social restrictions in a male-dominated society, governed by customs, traditions, and special laws that are gradually imposed on local, tribal, and family communities, Yemeni women have managed to carve out a path for empowerment and overall success at various levels—local, regional, and global. They have entered fields that were previously exclusive to men, such as the Parliament and public positions. They have also emerged as active leaders within tribal mediation committees and non-governmental organizations.
Repressive measures against women have noticeably increased over the past year, particularly in areas under Houthi control. The group has imposed a policy of "mahram," requiring women to obtain permission from a male guardian for various activities, including travel and movement. In compliance with this policy, Yemeni airlines have started requesting official consent from male guardians to book seats for women, and even requiring a female relative to accompany them to their seats. The Houthis have consistently restricted women's movement, curtailed their freedoms, and gradually diminished their rights through religious rulings and decisions, replacing state laws. These restrictions have affected all aspects of women's lives, both material and moral.
The policy pursued by the Houthi group against Yemeni women involves serious violations of international human rights standards. They exploit their armed control and affiliated armed groups, taking advantage of the absence of the rule of law to impose arbitrary and unlawful restrictions on Yemeni women. They manipulate the existing social reality based on a paternalistic culture that prioritizes honor and shame over human dignity and personal freedom. Furthermore, they exploit the economic situation to use women for military and security purposes against women who oppose them, as evidenced by the recruitment of so-called "Zainabiyat." This situation necessitates intervention to promote truth, justice, and accountability and to ensure non-recurrence of such violations.
As part of its documentation of human rights violations, SAM shed light on the restrictions imposed by the Houthi group on Yemeni women since their takeover of the capital in September 2014. This was done through a clear methodology for gathering and investigating information, including transparency, impartiality, integrity, and objectivity.
The organization's team heavily relied on reliable open sources, such as reports issued by UN organizations and reputable human rights reports. Additionally, they utilized various means to gather information and reach victims, including electronic communication with victims, conducting field visits to document certain events and interview witnesses. The organization also made use of available communication channels, received numerous complaints, obtained televised footage depicting the stories of victims, and quoted statements and speeches from media outlets affiliated with the parties involved in the conflict. Throughout this process, the organization ensured the credibility of the sources and relied on verified information through examination, analysis, and verification. It should be noted that the organization's findings in this report do not encompass all the facts of the situation, but rather serve as an indicator of the extent of human rights violations during the period covered by the report. The organization aimed to make the report as concise as possible to align with International Women's Day, including statistical figures on the violations suffered by women during the conflict by all parties involved.
SAM also listened to testimonies indicating widespread abduction and torture by the Houthis against activists or civilians for unknown reasons. Saad, who spent a period of detention in one of the Houthi prisons, says, "I was with a large number of abducted women. Some were taken from the streets, while others were lured through phone calls to receive food baskets. Some were abducted from their homes after their houses were raided and all their belongings were looted. Others were taken to detention centers from public gardens, restaurants, and cafes."
She adds, "The period of detention ranges from nine months to a year or more, even extending to several years." She emphasizes that "the eyes of the abductees are covered by the Zainabiyat group before being taken to villas in Sana'a. These villas were referred to as 'Al-Maqarr,' where a large number of abductees were gathered in the basement of the villa. They are subjected to systematic torture of various forms, and they are not allowed to use the restroom. They would be summoned for interrogation in the middle of the night, and they would be tortured in deserted places. Electric shocks were used against them by two individuals, with their hands tied with ropes and their mouths sealed with a rope that is pulled upward after water is sprayed on them."
SAM also documented the detention of a large number of women in the capital, Sana'a, with SAM holding the names of over 30 individuals, which is part of a larger number of women who have been held in secret prisons under the authority of a prominent security figure affiliated with the Houthi militia. The organization SAM has been unable to determine the location of these illegal secret detention facilities.
During the period from the beginning of the conflict in Yemen until the end of 2022, the organization SAM recorded alarming numbers regarding the extent of violations against Yemeni women during the six years of war. By the end of 2022, they documented over 5,000 cases of violations, including killings, physical injuries, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, torture, and restrictions on movement. Additionally, there were over 900,000 displaced women in camps in Marib, as a result of actions committed by the parties to the conflict in Yemen.
The Houthi militia accounted for 70% of the violations against women, followed by forces loyal to the legitimate government at 18%, the Transitional Council at 5%, and other actors at 7%. These violations included deliberate killings and severe injuries against civilians and activists, reaching the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The numbers reveal that the number of Yemeni women killed during this period reached 1,100. The highest number of casualties occurred in the city of Taiz, with 500 women killed, followed by Al-Hodeidah with 200, Aden with 42, Lahij with 45, and Saada with 100. Additionally, 1,500 women were injured, with Taiz also having the highest number of casualties at 1,600 women. Among the total number of women who lost their lives, 600 were killed due to fatal shrapnel injuries, while 300 were directly shot. Furthermore, 120 women were killed due to landmine shrapnel, 15 women due to explosive device shrapnel, 40 women due to various injuries, and 300 women were killed in airstrikes by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The Houthi militia topped the list of entities responsible for violations against women, as they were involved in the killing of 612 women in collaboration with the forces of former President Saleh during the period covered by the report. After their separation from Saleh's forces, the Houthi militia alone killed 500 women. Furthermore, the Arab coalition forces, including their air operations, were responsible for the killing of 245 women, while US drones killed 12 women. The number of injured women reached 2,200, with the highest proportion of casualties in the city of Taiz, totaling 1,600 women. The main cause of women's injuries was shrapnel, affecting 1,100 women, followed by 535 women who were shot. The majority of injuries were caused by the attacks of the Houthi and Saleh forces, resulting in the injury of 1,312 women, while the Houthi militia alone injured 300 women, and the Arab coalition forces caused injuries to 134 women.
The Houthi group has imposed numerous restrictions and prohibitions aimed at tightening control over people's lives and determining the lifestyle they should adhere to. This has created a state of guardianship over society, particularly targeting women. Women have been at the forefront of the lists that dictate standards for the form, color, and size of the clothing they wear. These measures reflect an attempt to exert control and limit personal freedoms, imposing a specific dress code and regulating women's appearance.
All of this comes within the context of the approach followed by the ruling authority in Sana'a, represented by the Houthi group, in tightening control over society. This approach significantly undermines the rights and freedoms of women and girls in areas under its control. The report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of women has revealed many of these restrictions and prohibitions imposed specifically on women. For example, access to reproductive health services has been limited in some areas under their control. Women's travel without a male guardian has been heavily restricted, and multiple directives have been issued imposing a standardized vision of "Islamic Sharia-compliant" dress code for women, according to their description.
In addition to these measures, women have been prohibited from working, segregated in public places, and subjected to discriminatory practices. On several occasions, the Houthi group has enforced gender segregation in research and graduation ceremonies at universities. Women have been barred and expelled from work. Furthermore, a number of speeches by the Houthi group, through various platforms, have ignited hatred against women in the areas under their influence.
Indeed, the restrictive customs for women in Yemen are not a new phenomenon. However, policies such as these are unprecedented as they threaten to completely exclude women from participating in public life and reflect the strict theocratic and conservative state envisioned by the Houthis in areas under their control. As the group tightens its grip on the levers of power, such oppressive measures take on an institutionalized character.
The Houthis' desire to impose a specific ideological agenda is evident in their efforts to enforce the celebration of religious holidays, recruit women militias to monitor other women, change school curricula, and establish training camps to indoctrinate youth and continue the recruitment of children.
The Yemeni woman still constitutes the majority of the displaced population due to the war, seeking refuge in displacement camps. According to statistics issued by the management of displaced camps, there are more than one million women. Many of them suffer from severe shortages in basic necessities and healthcare, and the majority of girls do not have access to education. Displacement poses a significant constraint on women's freedom and their enjoyment of basic rights for a dignified life. The majority of displaced girls are deprived of the right to education and access to a safe and healthy childhood. Moreover, tens of thousands of families lack decent housing or shelter. There are more than 62,002 girls who have been unable to enroll in education. Displacement and mobility constitute obstacles to women's ability to attain a decent and dignified life.
The Houthi group has issued directives to prohibit women from entering or working in many public places in Sana'a. Some café and restaurant owners in Sana'a have started implementing gender segregation or even banning men in certain cases to avoid their businesses being closed by the Houthis or facing fines imposed on them. In specific situations, they have been forced to separate female employees, leading to severe economic consequences for those workers. Additionally, many halls and cafés have stopped hosting cultural events that used to be attended by both men and women in previous years.
SAM calls on the Houthi group to immediately lift the arbitrary restrictions it has imposed and to cease its practices that violate international law regarding women's rights, without any conditions. Furthermore, it urges the legitimate government to integrate women into political life and grant them their rights to hold political and economic leadership positions. Additionally, there is a need to review discriminatory laws against women that contradict the agreements signed by the Republic of Yemen, which hinder women's ability to contribute to significant aspects of life.
The organization calls for the immediate release of all detained Yemeni women and emphasizes that detention and imprisonment should be carried out in accordance with judicial orders. SAM urges the conflicting parties in Yemen, as well as the international community, with the United Nations at the forefront, to work towards improving the living, health, and psychological conditions of women who have been released. It also calls for providing legal protection against any potential threats that may endanger their lives and stability.
SAM emphasizes the need to improve the situation of displaced women and ensure a dignified life for them in all areas, such as adequate housing, healthcare, and education. It calls on civil society to intensify its efforts and activities in order to break the constraints on women. It also emphasizes the necessity of finding a peaceful solution that aligns with the peace efforts made by international organizations and working towards establishing a civil democratic system that guarantees political pluralism and protects basic rights for Yemeni citizens.