|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
832nd & 833rd Meetings (AM & PM)
YEMEN’S DELEGATION ACKNOWLEDGES OBSTACLES TO WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT, HIGHLIGHTS
GOVERNMENT EFFORTS TO REVERSE DISCRIMINATORY PATTERNS, IN WOMEN’S COMMITTEE
While praising Yemen today for being among the first countries to have ratified the Women’s Convention and for having updated its citizenship laws in women’s favour, the Committee monitoring countries’ compliance with the Convention expressed concern about the prevalence of underage marriages, including tourist marriages, polygamy, domestic violence and negative sexual stereotypes, and questioned the Yemeni Government’s political will to implement the treaty.
Yemen ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1984, without any substantive reservations, but it had far to go to achieve full equality between the sexes, experts of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women agreed as they considered Yemen’s sixth periodic report.
Yemen’s personal status law -- which set no legal minimum age for marriage or a ban on polygamy -- must be changed in order to end discrimination, rape and other abuse, particularly against young girls, they said, calling on Yemen’s Parliament, judiciary and national women’s machinery to translate the country’s verbal commitment to the Convention into specific action to implement it.
Hooria Mashhour Ahmed Kaid, Deputy Chair of Yemen’s Women’s National Committee and head of the five-member Yemeni delegation, said underage marriage was a very complex issue and a matter of great concern. Yemen’s 1994 personal status law set the minimum marriage age at 15, but that was later amended. Her National Committee’s efforts to change the age to 18 faced strong opposition in Parliament, including among female representatives of conservative political parties. “Tourist marriages” between mostly wealthy Saudi men and poor Yemeni girls were immoral and were declining as Yemeni families realized they did not give the girls stability. The National Committee was pressuring Parliament to outlaw them. Still, the definition of marriage in the personal status law was based on sharia law, which permitted polygamy, and many legal professionals did not recognize that that was discriminatory against women.
Indeed, studies showed that women suffered from domestic violence, which was an issue of development, she acknowledged. While policymakers gave scant attention to it in the past, a new bill taking into account all forms of violence against women was being contemplated. “We are not the judicial system,” she said of the National Committee, adding, however, that it disseminated information on violence and subjecting little girls to violence. The National Committee acknowledged and regretted the incidents mentioned by the experts.
She said education was paramount to erasing negative sexual stereotypes and prejudice that demeaned and devalued women, and the National Committee was helping to effect tremendous change in gender attitudes in urban areas. The message to end early marriage was being spread through radio and television stations across country. The National Committee had recently asked that Friday sermons be addressed to families in order to encourage them to send girls to school.
In general, the Government had given gender issues greater priority in public policy, she said, noting that in 2003, several laws concerning labour, civil records, citizenship and the penal system had been ratified, in order to implement article 2 of the Convention, concerning policy measures. The Finance Ministry had created channels for gender-responsive budgeting, and the 2006-2010 General Development and Poverty Eradication Plan, for the first time in Yemen’s history, had incorporated strategies to increase women’s political participation and combat violence against women. That was an affirmation of the Government’s recognition of the existence of those problems and its desire to address them.
The Committee will take up Lithuania’s third and fourth periodic reports at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 2 July.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met today to take up Yemen’s sixth periodic report (document CEDAW/C/YEM/6).
Hooria Mashhour Ahmed Kaid, Deputy Chair of Yemen’s Women’s National Committee, headed the Yemen delegation, which also included: Noria Abdulqader Ali Shugaa Addin and Maha Mohammed Awadh Mohammed of the Women’s National Committee; Arwa Ahmed Hasan Al-Eryani of Yemen Women’s Union; and Waheed Al-Shami of Yemen’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York.
According to the report, the Women’s National Committee, the Government machinery concerning women, had made the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women one of the most important goals of the 2003-2005 National Strategy for Women’s and Gender Development, and the updated 2006-2015 strategy. The Committee was working to mainstream the Strategy into the 2006-2010 General Development and Poverty Eradication Plan through specific programmes and gender budgeting. It had created programmes to politically empower women and end violence against them, while continuing to reform the legal system to ensure women’s full rights and to campaign for women’s participation in the public and private spheres.
Further to the report, the legal amendments project adopted by the Committee, in partnership with civil society, worked to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women in national laws and to bring them in line with sharia jurisprudence, the Yemeni Constitution and the Convention. So far, five amendments had been adopted and the Supreme Council for Women had forwarded 27 proposed amendments to Parliament.
The report pointed to recent important action to improve the situation of women in accordance with the Convention’s articles, such as the tentative acceptance of the quota system to improve women’s representation in decision-making positions, increasing girls’ enrolment in basic education, now at 55 per cent, and encouraging them to continue education until high school. It also noted the relative increase in girls’ admission in technical and vocational institutes and universities. The number of girls admitted into such scientific fields as technology, communication and information systems had increased and would expand the percentage of women in the labour market from 22.8 per cent to 30 per cent by 2010.
The report also noted that efforts were under way to reduce maternal and infant mortality and to improve the lot of rural women through literacy programmes, better health-care infrastructure development, water sanitation and environmental protection as a matter of national priority. Despite the relative improvement of conditions for women since 2002, serious challenges to national objectives remained. That demanded strong networking between Government, civil society and donors to synergize efforts and improve performance, which would be part of the 2006-2010 National Strategy for Women’s and Gender Development.
Introduction of Report
Introducing the report, Ms. KAID said Yemen was one of the first States to have ratified and implemented the Women’s Convention. In 2003, several laws concerning labour, civil records, citizenship and the penal system had been ratified, in order to implement article 2 of the Convention, concerning policy measures. Legislators had also approved four laws concerning civil service, pensions and retirement funds to remove all discriminatory practices against women. Women and men had the same rights in terms of retirement benefits. Legislators had also increased maternity leave to 70 days. Last week, a committee in Parliament had ratified the law governing diplomatic service, in order to give women the same privileges in diplomatic missions as men.
The 2003-2005 National Strategy explicitly stated Yemen’s commitment to the Beijing Platform for Action and the Women’s Convention, she said. The 2006-2015 National Strategy reflected the targets set in the Millennium Development Goals. Yemen also had a national strategy concerning women’s rights in the labour force, women’s health promotion and food security. Gender issues had also become more prominent in Government policies. The 2006-2010 General Development and Poverty Eradication Plan, for the first time in the country’s history, had incorporated strategies to increase women’s political participation and combat violence against women. That was an affirmation of the Government’s recognition of the existence of those problems and its desire to address them.
Continuing, she said that the Women’s National Committee was involved in gender mainstreaming in the public sector and in creating new channels to monitor and evaluate that process. It had created divisions for women’s affairs in all sectors to ensure policy implementation in all fields. The Ministry of Finance had created channels for gender-responsive budgets, and national experts had developed budget training guides. The Finance Institute, with the support from Oxfam and others, had held its first session to educate trainers. In cooperation with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Yemeni Government had carried out a gender auditing process in six major Government sectors, in order to evaluate the level of gender mainstreaming in policies, programmes and sectors. A national network was working to combat violence against women. It had received some financial support from Oxfam and UNFPA, but it needed more.
The Government’s adoption of temporary affirmative action programmes and quotas to narrow the gap between opportunities for men and women had been welcomed by Yemen’s nascent women’s movement, she said, expressing hope that such policies would be instituted in election laws. Such a move would increase women’s participation in public affairs. In September 2006, the Government had committed to promoting social, economic and political rights for women. Earlier this year, it mandated that women hold at least 15 per cent of all parliamentary seats. Yemen’s women’s rights movement aimed to increase women’s representation in Parliament and all other sectors to 30 per cent. Yemen now had two female cabinet ministers, and 19 more women held leadership positions, including as ambassadors, counsellors and undersecretaries. There were 23 female directors in Government administration and more than 32 female judges, including a Supreme Court judge. The numbers of women in the judiciary should increase because law school was now open to women and girls.
More than 200 civil society organizations, working in partnership with the Government, were involved in women’s issues, she said, adding that efforts were also under way to create networks to combat violence against women. Civil society representation was growing, particularly in rural areas. She called on United Nations agencies to increase support for those organizations, particularly to promote and increase human and institutional capacity to enable those organizations to better contribute to improving women’s situation.
Concerning article 9 of the Convention, on nationality, she said that Yemen had adopted an amendment in 2003 granting citizenship and other equal rights for the children of Yemeni women married to foreigners. In terms of education, Yemen was committed to providing universal education for all by 2015 and narrowing the educational gap between boys and girls. Boys’ school enrolment was 89.15 per cent, while for girls, that figure was 64.16 per cent. The number of girls in higher education was increasing. Despite downsizing of Government jobs, the Government aimed to increase the number of women in Government posts by 8 per cent, and it had launched campaigns for the private sector to absorb more female workers. National health-care policies sought to reduce maternal mortality and improve prenatal and post-natal care for women and their children.
While there were no institutional obstacles to equality between men and women under the law, she acknowledged that social and cultural obstacles did exist. Media and advocacy campaigns were working to eliminate those obstacles. The increase in the number of female lawyers, judges and police officers was an indication that there were no longer any fields in public life that were closed to women. Women’s status in the family had also improved, but such gains were still relative due to the resistance of the legislator to approve some legal codes, such as setting a minimum marriage age for girls.
She thanked all donor organizations working within the Millennium Development Goals framework for boosting gender equality and women’s empowerment. She said more support was needed in that regard.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
As the Committee began its detailed examination of the implementation of the Convention in Yemen, several experts commented on the fact that Yemen had been one of the first countries to have ratified that instrument 24 years ago, without any substantive reservations, yet much remained to be done to attain full equality between men and women in the country. Several experts wondered if the Government intended to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention and wanted to know about the reporting process and Yemen.
Commending the delegation for the frankness of its presentation, CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, asked about the Government’s understanding of the Convention, which was a binding legal instrument, to which the Government had not made any reservations at the time of its ratification. In that connection, he emphasized that some of the obligations under the Convention were of an immediate character, implying that all discriminatory laws should have been repealed immediately. He wanted to know what was being done to protect the human rights of members of non-governmental organizations invoking the provisions of the Convention, which were portrayed as anti-Islam in Yemen. He was also concerned that the judiciary was not fully aware of the Convention’s status and that women did not seem to have easy access to justice to defend their rights.
On legislation, SILVIA PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, recalled that article 6 of Yemen’s personal status law defined marriage as a commitment between spouses, in which the man “enjoys his woman lawfully”. The State report referred to many articles of that law, which required changes, and presented alternative articles to replace them. She wanted to know why the Government did not consider article 6 as a discriminatory provision, which referred to women as a possession to be enjoyed by men.
TIZIANA MAIOLO, expert from Italy, said that the report listed quite a few new or modified laws, but did not speak about repealing or modifying discriminatory provisions of the Penal Code. She also commented on the fact that there was no specific code on domestic violence or rape.
RUTH HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, said that, while Yemen had been among the first countries to have ratified the Convention, from the report and other sources, she had serious questions with respect to the Government’s commitment to the implementation of the Convention. Specifically, the legal system needed to abide by the letter and spirit of the Convention. In that connection, she raised the issues of polygamous marriages and child marriages, which the Government did not seem to have an intention to address. That concern was echoed by FERDOUS ARA BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, who pointed out that early marriage had serious negative consequences for the girl child.
Responding to questions, the Head of the Delegation said that, while the Women’s National Committee of Yemen and many non-governmental organizations had advocated the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention, that instrument had not yet been signed. The Government had referred the issue to the Ministries of Human Rights and Legal Affairs.
Continuing, she agreed that, while Yemen had signed the Convention early, the progress achieved was not proportionate to the treaty’s requirements. Following the unification of Yemen, the country had faced a new reality, and the Convention was not welcome by many social groups. There were few advocates of women’s rights, and their voices were not heard by society. Social and cultural changes took time.
There were no rules against women’s access to justice under the sharia, she said. In reality, the obstacles, especially for rural women, were tremendous. However, there were several organizations that provided legal assistance to women.
The definition of marriage in the personal status law was based on the sharia law, and many legal professionals did not recognize that that was discriminatory against women, she said. However, the revision of the country’s domestic legislation continued, and note would be taken of the experts’ comments. Allowing that a man enjoyed his spouse also meant that a woman enjoyed her spouse.
Regarding marital rape, she said that there had been no complaints filed. Nobody knew what happened in the framework of marriage, and the Government did not recognize the problem as prevalent, and thus, it did not see any need for change. As for polygamy, that was allowed by the sharia. It was preferable for a man to have one wife, but the law allowed for up to four wives. The National Women’s Committee had asked for change, and if a wife did not like to remain with her husband in the presence of other wives, she could ask for divorce.
Underage marriage was one of the most complex issues and a matter of great concern, she said. There was tremendous resistance in Parliament to repealing the minimum marriage age, and the National Committee was continuing its dialogue with the Parliament on the matter. Linked to the minimal marriage age was the issue of forced marriages, she indicated.
The committee that had prepared the national report had consisted of Government representatives, as well as representatives of the National Women’s Committee, various ministries and women’s organizations, she noted. However, several civil society organizations had withdrawn because of the misconception that they were not supposed to participate in the preparation of the Government report and should only prepare a shadow report. Once the report was prepared, it had been reviewed at the local and governorate levels, and several workshops had been conducted for that purpose. Some observations from the ministries had been incorporated in the report, but the text had not been presented to the Parliament.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
The discussion then turned to article 3 of the Convention concerning guarantees of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms.
ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert from China, asked about the priority areas of national strategy for development and poverty reduction, and for details about human and financial resources. What systems had been created to evaluate and monitor implementation of the national strategy? she asked.
MARY SHANTHI DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, said that the current and previous reports acknowledged the link between economic growth and women’s development. What was Yemen doing in terms of respecting women’s rights to equality? Was that part of the national development plan? The present report noted that women received welfare benefits through social safety nets and that Yemen had goals to increase social cooperation between various sectors. But did women really benefit from poverty-reduction strategies and national development plans in terms of job opportunities, or were they just welfare recipients?
MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, expressed concern over the lack of implementation and monitoring of plans aimed at implementing article 3. Was there a real political will of the Government to fully implement the Convention as a whole? It was not enough that the Women’s National Committee was committed. The Government as a whole must also be committed.
YOKO HAYASHI, expert from Japan, noting that the Women’s National Committee had seven ministers involved in prominent decision-making, asked what happened when the Ministries of Legal Affairs or Human Rights did not follow the Committee’s plans.
VIOLETA NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, asked if the Women’s National Committee’s current budget of approximately $350,000 was sufficient and what it covered. Did that include operational costs for headquarters and governorate branches, and was it used to build capacity in terms of research and analysis?
In response, Ms. KAID said that the national development strategy had six priorities, among them, providing schooling for girls, narrowing the gender education gap and the girls’ dropout rate, as well as encouraging girls to attend university and go into specialized fields. However, girls who left school remained illiterate, adding to the women’s mortality rate. That was a serious problem. The mortality rate was quite high and lowering it was a top priority of the 2006-2010 General Development and Poverty Eradication Plan. Another Government priority was to address the feminization of poverty, as was increasing the number of women in the labour force. Doing so would enable Yemen to support sustainable development. Yemen was a least developed country, due to the fact that many opportunities were not seized and to women’s insufficient schooling.
Another Government priority was to change stereotypes in the media and to combat violence against women, she said. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other United Nations agencies, as well as civil society were supporting budgets to meet the requirements of both sexes. At the 2005 Paris Conference, Yemen requested that 50 per cent of resources earmarked for the country be used for women’s development, particularly in rural areas. Government planning ministers were working to decentralize power and give greater authority to municipalities in general and to women in those municipalities. Men needed to listen more to women in business, schools, municipal councils and civil society organizations.
The Women’s National Committee was responsible for development in all women’s areas and for evaluating success in that regard, she said. It had made an official commitment to implement all of the Convention’s articles. Yemen had campaigns to educate judges about the Convention. Unfortunately, some judges and legislators were not aware of all of its provisions. The Government was trying to teach them that there was no distinction or contradiction between the Convention and Islamic sharia. Islam had enshrined human rights and freedoms for all humans.
Indeed, there was just one woman in Parliament compared with more than 300 men, she said. In the past, there had been nine women parliamentarians. The Women’s National Committee had requested assistance in order to appoint more. Concerning the role of women in economic development, Yemen had been more successful than other Arab countries, incorporating a gender perspective into its Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, including references to violence against women. Gender focal points existed in all Government ministries, and it was their duty to ensure that strategies for women formed part of all development plans. Many sectors had gender budgets, for which technical assistance was required.
Concerning the National Women’s Committee’s budget, she said that that body had 50 members in total and 33 working in various ministries. The Government cooperated closely with civil society, which worked within the framework of the national strategies for women’s advancement and development. Since last year, her committee had been able to obtain Government resources for training programmes for its members in the governorate. It had conducted follow-up studies and had published pamphlets on its findings.
Another member of the delegation added that, in the framework of preparing the national strategy for the advancement of women, the National Women’s Committee had sought to create a mechanism for monitoring and evaluating its implementation. Efforts were also being made to mainstream gender equality policies in various Government programmes.
As for whether the Government took the Convention seriously, it definitely did, she added. The Women’s National Committee, since its establishment in 1996, had achieved significant success in various areas. At the same time, she agreed that the promotion of gender equality issues required a higher level of representation than the Supreme Council for Women and the National Committee. Yemen had asked international sponsors to support the efforts to promote women’s advancement.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
As the Committee moved on to the issues of negative sexual stereotyping, prejudice and violence against women, several speakers expressed serious concern about the prevalence of negative sexual stereotypes, which demeaned and devalued women in Yemen.
FRANÇOISE GASPARD, expert from France, said that cultures evolved and changed, and by ratifying the Convention, the Government had committed itself to fighting negative stereotypes. According to the country responses, the Women’s National Committee and certain women’s organizations had taken it upon themselves to sensitize the public, but article 5 of the Convention stated that it was the Government that must fight traditional practices hindering women’s development. What was the Government doing to increase public awareness?
DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, noted that some efforts were being made to address stereotypes in the media, but she wanted to know what was being done to target some 75 per cent of the population that lived in rural areas. Violence was a problem and, again, not enough was being done. Apart from sensitizing the judiciary, what was the Government doing to eliminate violence against women?
HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, had been disappointed to learn from the delegation about the perception was that there was no marital rape in the country because no complaints had been filed. From various sources, she knew of at least five such cases. For instance, a young girl had told the court that her father had beaten her up in an attempt to force her to marry; another woman had been exposed to abuse and sexual violence by her husband. As reported by The New York Times on 29 June, a nine-year-old girl had run to a local hospital saying that her husband had been beating and abusing her for eight months. The Government must acknowledge such cases. In the responses to the questions posed by the pre-session working group, the Government had conducted a comprehensive study on violence, but then it had presented to the Committee a table on attempted homicide by female prisoners. What the Committee needed to receive was the statistics on violence against women by men.
Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA addressed the issues of “tourist”, or temporary marriages of young Yemeni girls to non-Yemeni men, which, according to the country responses, had a sound legal basis. With girls married against their will, was that really the case? The country’s report said that such marriages must be combated to provide legal protection for the family, and she could not avoid asking: but what about the protection of the women involved, who were real victims? They were the ones who were first forced to marry and then abandoned. Apparently, there were no effective measures to protect those girls.
Several experts also asked for details in connection with trafficking in girls and women, as well as the provisions of Yemen’s legislation to combat that phenomenon.
DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, Chairperson and expert from Croatia, addressed the issue of genital mutilation, noting that it was illegal for practitioners to perform it, but it had not been criminalized. Was the Government considering the possibility of criminalizing genital mutilation as a form of violence against women? Legislation and criminalization were important steps, but it was also very important to educate the communities that practiced genital mutilation.
Ms. KAID said that education would definitely change stereotypical perceptions of women and men. Such traditions as covering of faces by women were becoming less predominant in the countryside, with peasant women working with only their heads, and not faces, covered in many areas of Yemen. Given the existing rate of illiteracy, printed media were not highly effective, but visual and audio media were of great help in the efforts to educate the population. For example, in the campaign against early marriage, radio stations had been widely used. With the spread of electricity, the message was being spread via television. The mosques were also very influential in shaping public views. The National Committee had recently asked that the Friday sermons be addressed to the families to encourage sending girls to school.
She said that a tremendous change was taking place in the cities because of the spread of education. Men were increasingly taking on new roles, for instance, child-rearing. The country was witnessing a change in culture. That progress happened over time, and it was not as widespread as one would have expected.
Violence against women was a very sensitive issue, about which policymakers were not open, she continued, but many studies had indicated that women suffered from domestic violence. She looked at violence as an issue of development, and some success had been achieved. The Prime Minister had recently opened a conference on violence, which had issued recommendations on criminalizing violence against women. Currently, if a wife was beaten and complained to the police, presenting evidence of beating, measures had to be taken. A specific law taking into account all forms of violence against women was being contemplated.
“We are not the judicial system, but we disseminate information on violence and subjecting little girls to violence,” she added. The National Committee had acknowledged the incidents mentioned by the experts, and she regretted those incidents. The National Committee and civil society had called for fixing the minimum age for marriage and amending the personal status law.
Regarding the number of women inmates, she said that it had been difficult to collect related data. Last year, there had been 156 women prisoners in the country. Most were incarcerated for moral crimes and adultery, as well as burglary and homicide. There were also crimes that had not been committed on purpose. Some women were released on financial fines. The President had recently pardoned 70 prisoners who had been unable to pay fines.
With regard to temporary “tourist” marriage, she said that many tourists came to Yemen, especially in summer. From the legal point of view, such marriages were legal, based on the consent of the girl and her family. However, that could make little girls subject to exploitation. Husbands were often well-off, and mostly from Saudi Arabia. They often gave presents to the girls and paid a dowry to the family. That was a source of pleasure for girls and families. However, it was not a permanent marriage, because men went back to their families and divorced the little girls. Efforts were being made to dissuade girls and their families from entering into such marriages, and recently there had been a decrease in their number, because the families were beginning to realize that they did not provide stability for the little girls.
Regarding trafficking in women and children, she said it was a form of smuggling and not trafficking. Some poor families, especially in regions bordering Saudi Arabia and other neighbouring countries, smuggled family members so they could work outside of Yemen. Yemeni and Saudi authorities were working together to curb that. Most smuggled children were boys. Girls were not smuggled to such a great degree, owing to family concerns about honour and dignity. Families that smuggled their children often forged the ages of their children in official passports. New laws aimed to curb that and ensure that children under age 15 did not leave the country. Orphanages existed to protect children. However, there were no orphanages or children’s homes in rural areas.
She did not know whether Yemen had signed agreements concerning trafficking in women, and she would obtain that information. Yemen had signed the International Labour Organization conventions. While laws did not restrict sending children to work in neighbouring countries, there was a Government decree to end female genital mutilation, especially in coastal areas. The Ministry of Health and the Higher Council for Mothers and Children coordinated implementation of that decree. A year ago, Yemen had organized a conference on health and girls and it had employed religious leaders to educate people about the negative health aspects of female genital mutilation.
Regarding sensitization of the judicial system, another delegate said that the Ministry of Human Rights and other centres were conducting training courses in that regard. A dialogue had been started with high-level institutions of the judiciary to conduct women’s rights courses. Training was also being provided on women’s rights policy. Journalists in Yemeni radio and television had been sensitized regarding gender stereotypes, and as a result, media programmes for women had been created. Regarding young girls who were forced into abusive marriages, she said that those incidents created much public commotion and outrage, and they were quickly investigated. Yemen was a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and it aimed to reduce female genital mutilation by 30 per cent by year’s end and to ultimately eliminate it.
Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, Chairperson and expert from Croatia, asked the delegation to elaborate on the specific contents of the draft law that would create a new minimum age for marriage.
In response, Ms. KAID said the 1994 personal status law established 15 as the minimum age for marriage, but that law was unfortunately amended afterwards giving girls’ guardians the right to make a marriage contract if the girl was physically ready for sex and motherhood. However, fathers were usually unwilling to bring their daughters to a doctor to see if they were in fact ready for sex and procreation. The Women’s National Committee wanted to set the minimum marriage age at 18, but it faced much resistance from the Parliament and women in conservative parties, many of whom had expressed their intention to demonstrate against the proposed change.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
When the discussion turned to articles 7, 8 and 9, respectively on political and public life, representation, and nationality, MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI said that, although Yemen had been among the first to ratify the Convention, there was a lack of political will in the Government to fully implement it.
Ms. NEUBAUER noted that the delegation had mentioned that a quota policy had been adopted. She recalled that the report stated that the Supreme Council had approved the proposal for legislative changes made by the Women’s National Committee, and asked about the strategy to get the policy enacted. While acknowledging the difficulty and slowness in overcoming cultural obstacles, she said the Government had the tools to expedite implementation of the Convention, as had been the case in other Arab countries. What concrete steps was Yemen taking to increase women’s participation in the diplomatic service?
Mr. FLINTERMAN, noting the small percentage of women in the foreign service, asked about the parliamentary obstacles to increasing that percentage. What power did Ms. Kaid have to eliminate such obstacles? While the changes in the citizenship law had been positive, they did not go far enough to ensure equal and full rights for the children of Yemeni women married to foreign men. What happened to the earlier amendment proposed by the Women’s National Committee in that regard and what was the Government’s time frame for complying fully with the provisions of paragraph 2 of article 9?
Ms. GASPARD, expert from France, asked if a Yemeni woman had the right to pass on her nationality to her children if she married a non-Muslim Yemeni.
Ms. KAID said that the Women’s National Committee worked with relevant committees of the Parliament to promote women’s rights. It also reviewed the country’s existing legislation and examined proposed bills and amendments to see if they were properly drafted. The Committee had good relations with most Ministries, engaging them in constructive dialogue to ensure that the questions relating to the status of women were included in their work. As for the role of the political parties, fortunately, the majority party in Parliament was among the pioneers in women’s rights, but there were no quotas for women’s participation.
Women were often unaware of their rights, and thus could not claim them, she said. For example, under the law, a woman working in a factory with fewer even than 50 employees could request that a nursery be established. However, women were not asking for that, as they were not aware of the law.
She also outlined proposed amendments that would increase the number of women in diplomatic service and improve their employment opportunities. Regarding citizenship, an article of the law had been amended. Yemeni citizens were allowed to have double nationality, and the children of Yemenis married to foreigners were entitled to have the nationality of both parents. Under the law, a Yemeni woman was not allowed to marry a non-Muslim.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
As the experts turned to women’s and girls’ education, several experts emphasized its crucial role in the advancement of women’s rights, but commented on the lack of progress in that regard.
Ms. DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, said that the country’s report acknowledged that the gender gap in education at all levels was still serious in Yemen. There were not enough all-girls schools, and girls were not allowed to attend coeducational schools. Trying to gauge progress from the fifth to the sixth periodic report, she saw that the same problems were outlined and the same challenges existed, including high dropout rates for girls at the secondary level. So what had changed in the past five or six years? What budgetary allocations had been made to enable girls to go to school? Another impediment cited had been early marriage, which had been discussed this morning.
Ms. ZOU, expert from China, said that, despite numerous actions, including literacy campaigns for adults, progress in the area of education remained slow. How was the Government planning to guarantee the implementation of those plans and strategies? With girls and boys attending separate schools, were the curricula the same? If not, what were the main differences? Financial resources for all-boys schools were in much better shape than for girls’ schools. What was being done to address the imbalance of resources?
HANNA BEATE SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, endorsed the recommendation of the Head of the delegation that the national machinery should be elevated to the level of Ministry. At present, the Women’s National Committee had only advisory functions, and the national machinery for women should be elevated and integrated in the Government structure to make it fully accountable for the implementation of the Convention.
She added that the Committee had given high priority to education when it considered Yemen’s reports six years ago, but she could not see sufficient progress since then. As the gender gap still existed in education, the Government must allocate more resources to girls’ education than to boys’ education. The Convention gave the Government the legal means of addressing those issues through temporary special measures to accelerate gender equality. Thus, structural imbalances in education could be addressed with the help of such measures. Without special temporary measures, she could not see how the country could achieve the Millennium Development Goal by 2015 on all girls completing primary education.
PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, addressed the issues of women’s employment, saying that her main concern was that the report did not set out any measures to eliminate existing discrimination against women. The provisions of Yemen’s Labour Code were in line with the Convention’s article 11, but the satiation on the ground was in shocking contradiction to the Labour Code. In that connection, she stressed the need to pursue the equality of results as opposed to the formal equality of laws. Men and women should have the same job security and equal remuneration. She also had questions about the Government’s target of increasing the women’s share of the labour market by 5 per cent a year, asking how that target would be achieved, if it would apply to both public and private sectors and what mechanism was in place to ensure the implementation of the labour Code. Were sanctions provided for violating the law?
She said that the gap in primary education had narrowed, with primary school enrolment at 84.6 per cent for boys and 63 per cent for girls. But early marriages kept many girls out of high school. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Bank and other organizations were supporting girls’ high school education. The Yemeni Government was doing everything possible to ensure that by 2015 all girls attended school. However, early marriage and social conventions still existed and stunted education for many girls. Eighteen per cent of the national budget was allocated to education, which was the cornerstone of development. Gender-sensitive budgeting would be used in the coming years in the education sector. Efforts were under way to improve educational access for girls in rural areas. School curricula were generally the same for boys and girls.
Two Government codes governed labour, she said. One covered labour in the civil service, the other in the private sector. The Government should encourage the private sector to end unemployment, particularly of women. But women with young children usually could not work long hours, discouraging many private sector employers from hiring them and providing them with maternity leave and other family care rights and privileges. The Government also aimed to increase the number of female teachers in rural areas, and it was training female high school graduates to work as teachers. The lack of investment opportunities was among the causes of unemployment of women.
Regarding religious preachers who believed women should stay out of the work force and in the home, she said she did not support those views. Rather, she supported increasing the number of women in the labour market, and hoped preachers would encourage them to do so. That was particularly important for divorced and widowed women.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
The experts then turned to articles 12, 13 and 14, respectively on health, economic and social benefits, and rural women.
MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, said that the Millennium Development Goals must be incorporated into everything related to women’s health, including the reduction of maternal mortality. But the country report did not show as drastic a change in that regard as was needed. The sources used for providing information were very varied and did not seem totally reliable. For example, the figures used for maternal mortality had been based on a questionnaire, which represented urban women much more than rural women. Had Yemen introduced strategies on how to incorporate data and indicators that analysed progress in implementing health strategies? Yemen’s annual HIV/AIDS infection rate was almost the same for men and women. How did the rate relate to immigration, particularly to people fleeing other countries in the Horn of Africa?
Ms. PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, made specific suggestions concerning the issue of female genital mutilation. She also noted that women in Yemen were not allowed to obtain contraceptives or have Caesarean births without their husband’s permission. She asked the delegation to elaborate on that and on strategies to improve women’s access to health care and housing.
Ms. KAID said the country had many strategies to improve both men’s and women’s health, including those on HIV/AIDS and malaria. However, women required particular attention when they were pregnant. The ceiling of maternal mortality in the country was still very high, and the Government sought to address that issue. In particular, Yemeni authorities wanted to increase the resources for the health sector, which presently amounted to only 4 per cent of the budget. The Government believed that the private sector should also participate, but as it worked for profit, many private services were not within reach for poor women.
The HIV infection rate, and the number of Yemeni women with AIDS, was very limited, but the Ministry of Health took the disease very seriously, she said.
Women’s circumcision, although limited, should be stopped, and the Government had put in place a plan to reduce the rate of circumcision by 30 per cent by 2012. The practice was not allowed at Government-run hospitals, and private practitioners were prevented from performing circumcisions.
Regarding the use of contraceptives or Caesareans, she said that the spouses were supposed to make such decisions together, but in rural areas, the decision was made almost exclusively by men. Rural women each had an average of eight children, but in the cities, that figure stood at only four children per woman.
Another member of the delegation added that statistics on maternal mortality dated back to 2005, with surveys on mothers and children done every five years. Information on AIDS was limited. Up to now, there were no statistics, and real numbers of infection were not known. As for special programmes for elderly women, she said that as a result of a special programme for post-menopausal women, the post-menopausal age was no longer called “the age of desperation”. Now, it was called “the age of hope”.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
GLENDA P. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, said she was concerned about rural women, who provided the bread for Yemen, yet had no services and were totally controlled by their husbands. Rural women required special attention and should be provided with services and education. It was not about reading, writing and arithmetic, but also about their role in the family. Rural women should have an empowering education that should be subversive to patriarchy.
Returning to the issue of temporary tourist marriages, she said that that boiled down to rich Saudi Arabian men coming to the country to have sex with little girls, albeit under the guise of marriage. That was immoral and could not be justified by the legality of marriage. The phenomenon was a total distortion of human development. It was barbaric. What kind of women would those violated girls grow up to be?
ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, asked questions about land rights and the projects that the Government had undertaken for the benefit of rural women, as well as loans for rural women. According to the report, an average loan received by a woman amounted to about 100 rials. Surely that could not buy much. What was that for? How many men had benefited from the agricultural and fish production fund, and what was the average amount of the loan for men?
Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, said that, disguised by family activities, women’s agricultural work was often associated with low income and a high risk of poverty. Relevant data needed to be analysed in order to bring out the linkages between informal employment, poverty and gender equality. The report contained little information on women entrepreneurs, and she wanted to know what measures were being taken to improve their access to land and credit.
Ms. KAID said that 70 per cent of Yemen’s population lived in rural areas. Women produced most of the basic output in rural areas. They needed better access to food, housing and basic education, and household goods. Sometimes they had to walk long distances to bake bread, and they often lacked access to water. Among the priorities of the five-year plan were to build roads, schools, and water and sanitation infrastructure in rural areas. While women participated in decision-making in urban areas, conditions for women in rural areas were different.
Concerning honour crimes, she said they did exist in rural areas, but there were no statistics on their scope or implications. It was rare for anyone to hear about them in the media. They did not exist on the same scale as honour crimes in Pakistan and Jordan, but the Government was looking into them and their consequences.
Concerning tourist or temporary marriages, she said that often fathers gave their daughters in marriage to foreigners without knowing that such marriages would be short-term. The Government had introduced constraints to curb that practice. Families now realized that such marriages would not last. The Women’s National Committee had approached Parliament to show that such marriages were immoral and to call for a ban on them because marriage was supposed to represent stability. Girls subjected to temporary marriages had no future and would not find husbands after the temporary marriage ended.
Regarding women’s access to credit, land and property, she said that was guaranteed by Islamic law. However, the problem of women’s lack of land ownership and inheritance was linked to some cultural practices that were not widespread. That meant that women did not always receive their inheritance, owing to the cultural interpretations of some people. However, that ran contrary to sharia law, and religious figures were trying to convince people that depriving women of their property rights violated religion. Many families or tribes jointly owned and worked pieces of land. She did not have statistics on the number of women who owned land; however, inheritance rights for women were guaranteed and many women inherited and worked their own land.
Women in the informal sector had no guarantees, she said, noting that the trend was to encourage women to enter the formal work sector. Tourism was a new sector in Yemen, in which women were encouraged to take part in Arab and regional conferences and to market their produce at regional fairs. Such efforts contributed to development.
In terms of women’s access to credit and loans, the Government encouraged women to obtain credit and loans at favourable rates and it had set up associations to guarantee women credit, with the aim of ending the cycle of poverty.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
Ms. HALPERIN-KADDARI asked the delegation to clarify the number of women attorneys and judges. What programmes where there to encourage more women to enter the legal field, and who ran such programmes? The report said that the law gave custody rights to children when couples divorced. Who specifically was awarded legal rights to the children? It stated that when her husband died, a woman was only able to obtain custody rights to her children if the children’s paternal grandfather was not alive. That policy was not in line with the Convention, and she asked the delegation to elaborate on it. Were divorced women entitled to any part of the property they had shared or acquired during marriage?
Ms. HAYASHI said that, according to the report, the Government was committed to the Convention’s implementation, but she was still concerned about the persistent discrimination against women in Yemen. Under the national legislation, if a husband killed or attacked his wife, he would be penalized with imprisonment of up to one year, or fined. In its previous recommendations, the Committee had recommended that the Government actively combat domestic violence through appropriate legislation and abolish so-called honour killings. In that connection, she wanted to know if the delegation had any statistics as to how many wives had died or become disabled as a result of attacks from their husbands. How many husbands had been imprisoned or fined for that reason? The State should have due diligence to prosecute and penalize perpetrators.
She added that, in 1992, the Government had set the minimum age of marriage at 15, but that legislation had later been amended to the time a girl reached sexual maturity. A new draft pending would raise the age of marriage to 18 years. She hoped the Parliament would approve the bill as soon as possible. According to one of the Committee’s general recommendations, it was important to specify the minimum age for marriage and make official registration of marriage compulsory. She also wanted to know what measures could be taken to prevent sexual exploitation of the girl child in the name of marriage.
Ms. TAN asked about the Government’s efforts to address the issue of polygamy, in view of its obligations under the Convention’s article 16. She also had questions about the implementation of the provisions regarding equality among wives, and the number of polygamous marriages. Was there a registry that recorded such marriages and divorces? In case of the husband’s death, was inheritance divided equally among wives? How long did a wife get alimony after divorce, and how long did the children receive support from the father?
Ms. KAID said that the mother kept the children after divorce or the death of the father, but if the woman was financially unable to look after the children, she could not keep them and had to return to her parents’ house. As for the division of property following divorce, it was not 50-50 for each spouse. In the event of divorce, each party got what it had owned prior to the marriage, as well as gifts in the course of marriage. The alimony was paid according to the legal decision on the matter. In the draft amendment, alimony was proposed for 15 years for the children. If a woman did not abide by her marital obligations, the husband could repudiate her. The judge decided what amount of alimony went to the wife.
Noting people sometimes cited the provisions of Yemen’s Penal Code as accepting the murder of a wife, she said that, in the event of adultery, it was not up to the husband to provide the punishment. In fact, the National Committee had asked that the Penal Code, and not Muslim law, be applied in such cases. The sharia law stated that adultery should be punished, but it was important to encourage the husband to go to the national authorities to make a complaint. If there was a murder, sometimes certain circumstances were taken into account and the matter was considered less serious. She did not have statistics regarding the number of spouses killed, but she believed it was very low.
She said that the minimum marriage age was a matter of grave concern. She hoped the new Parliament next year would include a large number of women deputies, so their voices could be heard and the proposed amendments applied.
There was a religious aspect to the matter of polygamy, she said. However, women could ask for a divorce if they did not accept polygamy. Under the law, a man must treat all of his wives equitably. A complaint could be entered by a woman to a human rights body in case of unequal treatment. Unfortunately, women in rural areas did not have many choices and often went along with polygamy. In the cities, women were better educated, and polygamy was less common.
Another member of the delegation said that, in 2007, the number of women judges in Yemen had increased from 32 to 76. With few women in law school in recent years, the National Committee was encouraging them to apply, but applications remained low.
After divorce, a woman living in her husband’s house had to return to her parents and leave the children with her husband’s parents. The National Committee was trying to provide housing for women, so they could take care of the children until the age of 15. It was also trying to ensure legal protection for women.
In a round of follow-up questions, Ms. NEUBAUER said that tremendous changes were needed in Yemen’s society to bring about the implementation of the Convention. How was the Government integrating the needs of women in its development programme when it was engaged in negotiations with development donors?
Ms. KAID said that the delegation had enjoyed the experts’ comments and observations, which would be taken into consideration by the Government. The National Committee would do everything possible to disseminate the Committee’s recommendations, in order to improve the conditions of the country’s women. She hoped that the delegation bringing Yemen’s next report to the Committee would be able to inform the experts about many positive changes. The Government’s plans and projects would be meaningless, without sufficient resources to implement them, as well as training to promote gender equality. There was some initial resistance to gender budgeting, but the Ministry of Finance was now welcoming such proposals. She hoped that international partners would help the country in that regard.
Thanking the delegation for its responses, the Committee’s Chair, Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, said that the Convention was still perceived more as a declaration in Yemen than a binding instrument. The Government should do more to put the legislation in line with the Convention. It should work together with non-governmental organizations on implementation. She hoped to see progress in the next report for the whole population of the country. As a least developed country, Yemen should use all available resources for the promotion of gender equality.
* *** *For information media • not an official record