COMMITTEE EXPERTS TROUBLED BY STEREOTYPES, PREJUDICES HINDERING EQUALITY FOR YEMENI WOMEN
COMMITTEE EXPERTS TROUBLED BY STEREOTYPES, PREJUDICES HINDERING EQUALITY FOR YEMENI WOMEN
Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
580th and 581st Meetings (AM & PM)
COMMITTEE EXPERTS TROUBLED BY STEREOTYPES, PREJUDICES
HINDERING EQUALITY FOR YEMENI WOMEN
Delegation Leader Denies Lack of Political Will to Promote Equality
Pervasive traditional stereotypes and prejudices regarding women, discriminatory legislation and "troubling" precepts enshrined in Islamic law were impeding Yemen's efforts to ensure gender equality and equal representation, the expert members of the Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women told that country's Government representatives.
While applauding Yemen’s achievements, particularly its programmes for rural women and specific Constitutional reforms, the expert from the Philippines said the delegation continually invoked cultural stereotypes and the specific roles assigned to men and women as obstacles. She pointed out that the very heart of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women called for overcoming those barriers. Invoking abiding “cultural differences” was merely begging the question, she added.
The Committee was considering the combined fourth and fifth periodic reports of Yemen on compliance with the Convention as it continued its exceptional session, being held to reduce the backlog of country reports.
Echoing several other Committee members, the expert from Mexico was particularly troubled by the Government’s refusal to amend a Constitutional law on a woman’s obedience and submission to her husband, which seemingly forbade a women even to leave the house without her husband’s permission. She said that as long as women were not perceived as equals within the family, it would be difficult for society to change its attitude toward them.
She said that while some might not grasp the precepts and standards of Islamic law or Sharia there were examples of nations that had managed to outlaw polygamy, enshrine equality in inheritance laws and apply equitable dowry schemes without failing to comply with the principles of Sharia.
Introducing Yemen’s reports, Ms. Hooria Mashhour Ahmed Kaid, Deputy to the President of the National Women's Council, said her country had made great progress since unification in 1990 through a democratic approach that allowed for full participation by civil society, as well as democratic participation and freedom of expression. Women constituted a little over half of Yemen's population of 19 million.
She said Yemen was an Islamic society, and Sharia as the basis for all legislation. She disagreed with one expert’s assertion that there was an absence of political will to promote equality of women. The fact that the Prime Minister was head of the Women’s Rights Commission was proof of the Government's commitment to improve the status of women.
In a "true desire" to comply with the Convention, priority was given to women in poverty eradication, she said. Increasing the number of women in decision-making positions was another priority, as was creating an infrastructure in the Government that would be conducive to advancing the position of women. Sharia did not at all limit women’s activities or work, she said, adding that there were, however, customs and traditions that limited such activities.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 15 August, to take up the fifth periodic report of Peru.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) met today to consider the fourth and fifth periodic reports of Yemen (document CEDAW/C/YEM/4). It explains that a work team comprising members from governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as well as the private sector was formed to write the report, clarify any difficulties relating to implementation of the Convention and propose practical measures towards implementing it.
According to the report, the amended Yemeni Constitution of 1994 endorsed the principle of equality. Furthermore, the laws affirm the general constitutional principles, most of which have ensured equal rights for women as for men in the economic, social, political and cultural fields.
The report said that some articles of the Convention contradict Islamic Sharia, which does not discriminate against women or bar them from any right. Sharia establishes equality between men and women and regulates relations between and for the two sexes. The existence of some practices that restrict the principle of equality guaranteed by the Constitution is the result of a great social heritage and has no relation to the precepts of Sharia that has honoured the Muslim woman, if not granting her additional rights out of consideration for her nature and constitution.
The evaluation portion of the report, to be used as a reference when assessing women's status, highlights the following areas: actual legal and legislative status of women; giving prominence to the gap between women and men in ensuring the realization of equal opportunity for women; promoting awareness in women's rights and their status in family and public life; structural reform in institutions concerned with women's affairs to enable them to participate in formulating policies and implementing plans, programmes and projects at both governmental and non-governmental levels; and furnishing decision-makers with the report, leading to rectification of the work course in women's development plans and programmes.
A description in the main report of the economic situation says the Yemeni economy has suffered from a sharp crisis that began in the 1980s. The crisis was accompanied by important political and economic developments, including the unification of North and South Yemen in May 1990 and the resultant merging of two different and backward economies. A second development was the Gulf crisis in August 1990 and the consequent return of hundreds of thousands of Yemeni citizens working in the Gulf. An additional development was the constriction and even cut-off in the volume of remittances, external credits and aid and as well as a weakening in domestic savings, which led to the continuation and expansion of the scope of poverty. All of those factors have affected women.
In the legal arena, legislation and laws have evolved in pace with the volume of economic, social and political developments, the report states. Such legislation and laws are derived from Islamic Sharia, be they civil, penal, administrative or personal status laws. Among the items taken up in the wide-ranging report is the situation of Yemeni returnee women, who faces numerous problems, especially those who lost their spouses after their return. Having become the providers for their families, they face numerous problems at an age when they are not allowed to take up work.
According to the report, returnees also face many obstacles stemming from social habits and customs that reject the employment of women in certain spheres, such as service in homes or offices. The housing problem represents one of the most important problems confronting the returnees. One specific characteristic of families living in "random housing" in regions where there is state land, is the size of the family, which has an average of 9.6 individuals. Some 75 per cent of those families live below the poverty line and depend primarily upon assistance and food contributions.
Among other topics reviewed in the report are efforts to change children's concepts about the social, economic and cultural roles assumed by men and women through updated school textbooks. More support is needed, to change the prevailing mental and cultural atmosphere with respect to the role of men and women; coordinate the various media to unify efforts to promote the status of women; include instructional family and social programmes in information media to disseminate family educational concepts, family planning and reproductive health concepts, as well as new concepts on the changing functions and roles of women and men based on the principle of partnership and cooperation.
Introduction of Report
HOORIA MASHHOUR AHMED KAID, Deputy to the President of the National Women's Council, said Yemen had made great progress since unification in 1990 through a democratic approach that allowed for full participation by civil society, democratic participation and freedom of expression. Women constituted a little over half of Yemen's population of 19 million.
Yemen had signed the Convention in 1984 and had since then taken up procedures and policies to enhance the status of women, particularly in legal reforms, she said. The Constitution did not distinguish between men and women, and the term “citizen” applied to both sexes. The National Committee on Women had made several proposals to adjust legislation, such as a law in the Penal Code that gave a husband the right to kill his wife in case of betrayal. The Social Care Law, addressing issues of single women or widows, had allowed women to make full use of social care programmes. Women received a monthly stipend to improve their standard of living.
She said Yemen was an Islamic society, and Islamic law -- Sharia -- was the basis for all legislation. Illegal trafficking and prostitution were prohibited under Sharia. The electoral law did not distinguish between the sexes and facilitated political activity for women. They could vote, be nominated and elected. However, 75 per cent of Yemeni society was rural, and many traditions limited women from participating politically. In the 2001 elections, 125 women had been nominated, of whom 35 had been elected.
Women’s presence in political parties was still limited: not more than
15 per cent, she said. There had been some progress in the participation of women in Government and there was now one female Minister (for Human Rights) and several female deputy ministers. There were two female ambassadors. Participation of women in trade unions was very limited, because they did not understand the significance of such work.
She said the National Women's Council had been established to set policies and strategies in areas such as education, health and violence against women. Executives from departments working in the field of development of women and NGOs cooperated in the Council, which was headed by the Prime Minister. There were other non-governmental mechanisms as well, but NGOs concentrated their work in the cities, despite the urgent need for development in rural areas. Yemen’s Nationality Law had been reviewed and a revision to give women the right to give Yemeni nationality to their foreign-born children was under consideration.
The gap between boys and girls in education was enormous, she said, with only 34 per cent of girls attending primary school. Girls did not reach the secondary school level, usually dropping out because they were needed for work in the rural areas. The number of schools had been increased, but the high rate of population growth was an obstacle to development. Girls usually did not attend vocational and technical training, and there was a need to change the girls’ perception of that kind of training, which was also important for development. Only 24 per cent of students in the academic sphere were women. Schools were co-ed, but parents in rural areas often did not allow mixing of the sexes in schools.
The Labour Law allowed women to reduce their working hours during pregnancy and the lactation period, she said. Maternal mortality was still high and although there was a limited number of health centres in the rural areas, women did not use them because the people working there were men. Life expectancy was 64 years and 60 years for men. The fertility level was very high: in cities
5.8; in rural areas 7.4. Less than 20 per cent of women used family planning services.
An estimate of 23 per cent of women had been exposed to female genital mutilation, she said. There was a growing awareness of the problem, which was considered as a form of violence against girls. The Minister of Health had prohibited such practices in Government institutions and there was a national campaign to raise awareness of the seriousness of such practices.
She said Yemen was a less developed country, with a per capita income of $300 per year and 23 per cent of the population lived below the poverty line, because of economic restructuring policies. Mechanisms and programmes to combat poverty included the Social Fund for Development and the Fund for Developing Small Industries, which were intended to provide income for poor women. The work of women in agriculture was not valued and was considered as part and parcel of her reproductive role in providing for the family and not for the market. However, the Ministry of Agriculture had a division to develop rural women, she added.
Laws dealing with social status still contained discrimination, she said. Most of them were taken from Sharia, which, nevertheless, also contained positive provisions for women, such as the right to inheritance and to manage money. The National Women's Council and NGOs were trying to change the more negative provisions. The Convention was the basic tool for improving the status of women, as was the Beijing Platform for Action. The text of the Convention would be published in a simplified form contained in small books.
ONAELA GABR, expert from Egypt, said the precepts of the Convention should be integrated into Yemeni laws. After years of being practically a closed society, some changes appeared to be underway, but the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report had found that the status of women could be considered one of the hindrances to Yemen's overall development.
With that in mind, she asked what role the National Council for Women was playing in the country and how the Council viewed Yemeni legislation? Would it seek to amend obviously discriminatory laws with the help of civil society? With such high illiteracy and the particularly troubling situation of women in rural areas, how did the Council intend to promote the Convention or inform women of their rights?
SJAMSIAH ACHMAD, expert from Indonesia, was asked whether the country’s national women’s machinery, particularly the National Council for Women, would be able to balance pressing issues like the grave situation of rural women with serious cross-cutting issues such as the elimination of stereotypes and negative cultural practices. What has been the relationship between representatives of that machinery and representatives of civil society and religious organizations?
AYSE FERIDE ACAR (Turkey), Committee Vice-Chairperson, said that some Yemeni laws severely curtailed the freedoms of married women and others brushed aside issues like domestic violence. Very clear advocacy programmes and concrete measures by the Government were needed to change cultural attitudes and, importantly to build coalitions with civil society and women’s NGOs to effect such changes. What was the level of cooperation between the Government and civil society? she asked.
HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, applauding the Yemeni delegation's frank admission of the problems faced by women, said she was troubled because the overall status of women appeared to be deteriorating, mainly due to discriminatory laws. Noting that domestic violence “was not viewed as a problem” and that statistics were difficult to obtain, she urged concrete and holistic legal reform to address that issue, as well as other troubling practices such as honour killings, rape and female genital mutilation.
MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, said the most serious problems were of a social and cultural nature, particularly concerning the perceived roles of men and women. While there appeared to be some proposals for revision of, or amendments to, discriminatory laws, there were many such laws that remained unchallenged. Reviewing the report she wondered why divorce was considered “primarily the prerogative of men”? If women were not discriminated against, why did the laws on adultery differ so dramatically between the sexes? If women were considered equal in marriage, why did they have to ask permission to leave the house, even to go out to buy bread?
Echoing the concern of other experts that important issues might be overlooked because the Government did not consider them a problem “at the moment”, she asked what incentive there was to change laws when a situation became “problematic” or unfair. The apparent difficulty to accept change was sadly recurrent throughout the report and she hoped the Government would do its utmost to amend laws that ran counter to human rights norms.
Ms. KAID, responding to comments and questions, said civil society took an active part in rural development, but pointed out that NGOs had only been established since the early 1990s. They were still weak and suffered from a lack of resources and organization. The Government was trying to create a climate that would allow NGOs to promote economic and social development.
She said the National Women's Council had revised 57 laws to eliminate discrimination against women and some proposals had been sent to Parliament. However, there were still problems with customs and traditions, and the Council was trying to get the support of civil society in addressing them. There were only two female Members of Parliament, but there was an understanding of women’s problems. The Council had set policies to establish gender equality and to mainstream it into the country's five-year economic development plan.
Women were present in NGOs, Government institutions and Parliament, but participation was still low, she said. It was important that women should not be regarded as a token, but as active participants. Decision-makers had been asked to provide briefing sessions and the channels of communication between the Government and civil society were open.
She said illiteracy in rural areas was a major problem that hampered development. There were still traditional roles for men and women in Yemen's society, but with education, a change in those roles had taken place, particularly in cities. Men now helped in the education of children, for instance. Gender equality was a long-term goal.
The Council, established in 1996, had a mandate to review and revise current laws, she said. Structural improvement and capacity-building were being achieved through training programmes. The country had 20 governates and each governor was responsible for implementing national programmes, taking women’s development into account. Since 2001, local councils had been set up to decentralize the process of development and to speed it up. There were lines of communication with traditional and religious leaders, for instance, to make people aware of the dangers of successive and early pregnancies.
She said the Law on Civil Status needed some revision, and awareness was being raised in that regard. The Constitution guaranteed free education for everyone, but awareness campaigns were necessary to ensure that girls continued their education. Regarding retirement, she said women seemed to prefer to retire at the age of 55.
Noting that the issue of domestic violence required study, she said that because of customs and tradition, women did not report violence to the police. Domestic violence, though not widespread due to the traditional mutual respect between men and women, did take place. There were no statistics to assess the problem. According to Sharia, the woman should not be humiliated or beaten in cases of divorce. Also, the woman could repudiate her husband if she was not satisfied with her conjugal life. Female circumcision was not widespread and was practiced mostly in the coastal areas. Through awareness-raising campaigns and educational programmes, it was hoped that the practice would disappear. There was no rape in Yemeni society, she added.
Changes in the nationality law might include the principle of reciprocity, she said. The change to transfer nationality to a foreign spouse was seen as positive by decision-making bodies. In case of divorce or widowhood, nationality could be transferred, guaranteeing the nationality rights of a couple's children.
She said that the provision that a man was not punished as severely as a woman in adultery cases should be eliminated from the Penal Code. Adultery was a crime according to Sharia, and punishment was handed down by tribunals. The Koran allowed for more than one wife, but men could be made aware that that was a matter of inequity. The average marriage age was 22 years for women and 22 years for men. In rural areas, some girls were married off at 15. She hoped that awareness-raising and education would reduce the number of such cases. The National Women's Council was trying to teach society about the dangers of early marriage and family planning programmes were intended to promote birth spacing and breastfeeding.
FRANCOISE GASPARD, expert from France, noting that much remained to be done in ensuring women's participation in political life, asked what was being done to encourage Yemeni women to exercise either right to vote. Was there some reticence on the part of society as a whole to elect women to office? The small number of women in elected office was troubling, particularly since NGOs reported large numbers on the ballots.
Ms. KAID reiterated that the Constitution did not prevent women from participating in political or public life. Legal codes and local government laws had given them the right to be candidates and hold office but there were obstacles, and it was true that many men did not accept women in office. Furthermore, women were often reluctant to participate in male-dominated occupations. Programmes and symposiums were under way to try and change those attitudes and the National Council was actively involved in efforts to ensure that women were not seen merely as "votes". The Government was trying to appoint a large number of women experts to decision-making positions.
She went on to say that the Government was also trying to ensure the promotion of women whose long, successful careers in office had gone unrewarded. It was trying to set up quota systems to correct some inadequacies and there were also efforts under way to improve coordination with NGOs to promote the participation of women and to foster democracy at all levels.
HANNA BEATE SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, asked how soon Yemen would ratify the Convention's Optional Protocol and whether the Government was also considering ratifying the amendment to Article 20, paragraph 1 of the Convention? Expressing concern about reports of honour killings, particularly accounts of such killings being invoked to cover up other crimes, she said adultery was not a reason to condone killing. She requested more information on education strategies for women and girls, particularly in rural areas.
FENF CUI, expert from China, asked whether the Government had consulted the Convention when establishing strategies for rural women. She also noted that although the delegation had consistently stated that there were no legal obstacles to women’s rights, accepted cultural and social conventions placed many obstacles before them.
CHARLOTTE ABAKA (Ghana), Committee Chairperson, emphasized the importance of looking at the early marriage age for females -- currently 15 years -- as a health issue, saying that their heath was endangered when they married at such a tender age. On other health issues, she asked if Yemen had a national commission on HIV/AIDS that included all the stakeholders. She also stressed the importance of legal measures to end the practice of female genital mutilation.
Ms. ACHMAD, expert from Indonesia, asked whether Yemen had a strategy for promoting the use of simple technology to help ease the burden of women who worked long hours. Were there programmes to give women more control over their own skills training and earning capabilities or efforts to increase burden-sharing in domestic responsibilities between men and women in rural areas? she asked. Was the Government receiving any assistance from United Nations agencies and funds to improve the situation of rural women?
ROSALYN HAZELLE (St. Kitts and Nevis), Rapporteur of the Committee, asked for specific examples of implementation and outcomes of programmes mentioned in the report on the education of women and girls. Expressing particular concern about an apparent reluctance to keep girls and boys in the same school after they reached a certain age, she said it seemed that the very education system had been structured to promote inequality. Were efforts being made to keep girls in school at all costs -- whatever their age and regardless of negative cultural perceptions?
ROSARIO MANALO (Philippines), Committee Vice-Chairperson, noting that the delegation continually invoked cultural stereotypes and the specific roles assigned to men and women as obstacles, pointed out that the very heart of the Convention -- Article 5 on social and cultural patterns that lead to discrimination -- called for overcoming those barriers. Invoking abiding “cultural differences” was merely begging the question. What was the Government going to do about those differences?
Ms. AIDA GONZALEZ MARTINEZ, expert from Mexico, said that the foundation of persistent discrimination in Yemen lay within the family education system. As long as women were perceived as unequal in the family, it would be difficult for society to change its attitude toward them. While understanding that some might not grasp the precepts and standards of Sharia, she could give examples of nations that had managed to outlaw polygamy, enshrine equal inheritance laws and apply equitable dowry schemes without failing to comply with its principles. Echoing concern that the Penal Code allowed adulterous wives to be killed, she said it essentially gave a right to murder, she said. While adultery should be condemned, it should be condemned equally. She was also troubled by inheritance laws, particularly in light of the complications that arose when men had several wives and several sets of children.
Ms. KAID said there was a need for changes in the electoral law to allow for quotas, and a policy to encourage women to participate in political life. But all that could not be achieved in a period of two to three years. A decade was more realistic. A request that had been sent to the National Commission for Women’s Rights regarding ratification of the Optional Protocol was under consideration and there was a commitment that ratification would occur in the near future.
Regarding temporary measures in the area of education, she said a campaign had been launched in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in the context of the poverty eradication strategy, to encourage parents not to discriminate against girls because food assistance to families was stopped if girls were taken out of school.
She said international donors like the Netherlands and Germany, as well as NGOs such as Oxfam were helping to implement programmes and give assistance and grants in the field of gender mainstreaming. Yesterday, a meeting had been held with the World Bank to provide more credits to women, who were marginalized in international assistance.
There were no specific data on honour killings, but the phenomenon was not widespread, she said. Furthermore, many difficulties had been encountered when legal provisions on the age of marriage had been considered. A parliamentary group trying to promote the rights of women had had no success. The Personal Status Law established strict criteria for women in that regard, and needed to be amended. She agreed that it was important to raise the marriage age.
She said there were 800 cases of HIV/AIDS in Yemen, half of them foreigners. Yemen did have a programme to combat AIDS, which was supported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). A national strategy was being developed to deal with the situation and to gather more information.
There were two research centres on women's issues in Aden, the capital, she said. A survey had been done on the situation of women in prison, which had concluded that the situation had improved. Representatives from the Netherlands and Denmark had visited Yemen’s prisons and come to the same conclusion. A survey regarding education in rural areas was still underway, she added.
The fact that women had to work 16 hours a day in rural areas was not a matter of law, but a fact of life, she pointed out. Improving infrastructure, such as availability of roads, electricity and drinking water, could improve the daily life of rural women. That was part of the five-year development policy for poverty eradication. The Netherlands had given a lot of assistance to the rural areas in the sanitation, reproductive health and education fields.
She said the National Women’s Council had drawn the attention of decision-makers to the high school drop-out rate among girls. The Ministry of Education was trying to get girls to stay in school by feminizing the education system and by encouraging women to work in rural schools, which would reassure families.
Disagreeing with a statement that there was an absence of political will to promote the equality of women, she said the fact that the Prime Minister was head of the Women’s Rights Commission was proof of the Government's commitment to improve the status of women. The Council of Ministers had decided to implement gender mainstreaming in their ministries, but that could not be done in two or three years. In a "true desire" to comply with the Convention, priority was given to women in poverty eradication. Increasing the number of women in decision-making positions was another priority, as was creating an infrastructure conducive to advancing the position of women.
She said the Government was committed to improving the dissemination of information. Many brochures about the convention had been published in clear
language and the same had been done with regard to HIV/AIDS. In addition, workshops had been set up to tell people about development and gender mainstreaming.
Sharia did not prohibit women from working, she stressed. Islam did not at all limit women’s activities or work, but there were customs and traditions that limited such activities.
MUNEER MANSOUR AL-SHAHAB, Manager of Legal Affairs for the National Women’s Council, said Sharia gave to each their due in matters of inheritance. The man often had more rights, because he had the obligation to pay household expenses. If orphaned, the man had to take care of his sisters as well. However, there were cases where women received an equal or even greater share of the inheritance than men. The perception that a man had a greater right to inheritance than a woman was therefore not true.
FATIMA KWAKU, expert from Nigeria, opening the final exchange when the Committee met this afternoon, expressed serious concerns about Yemen’s marriage laws. She was particularly troubled by the early marriage age and by legal provisions within the law, which stated that a man may take a bride “if she was fit for sexual intercourse”. How and who determined whether a girl was fit for sexual intercourse, she asked. Was there a medical test? Were girls under the age of 15 getting married in Yemen and were there any statistics on the percentage of such girls?
She asked if there were programmes to ensure the education of girls who were married at such a young age. Urging the Government to do its utmost to reform discriminatory laws and cultural practices, she cautioned that religion was often used by patriarchal societies to perpetuate discriminatory practices against women when, in fact, those practices were merely based on cultural attitudes, having absolutely nothing to do with religion.
FRANCES LIVINGSTONE RADAY, expert from Israel said that while she had been encouraged by the Government’s avowed intent to improve literacy rates and enhance women’s participation in political life and the labour force, a number of factors made the feasibility achieving those goals quite questionable. She was concerned by the sex disaggregated figures on adult literacy, which showed that while women’s literacy was about half that of men, illiteracy among girls was 56 per cent and only 18 per cent for boys. That showed that the Government’s efforts were deteriorating at precisely the end of the scale where they needed to be enhanced.
Expressing concern at the closure of the Empirical Research Study Centre for Women in 1999,she went on to say that if women and girls were oppressed within the family, they would not be able to fulfil their potential in social life and in the workplace. She emphasized the relationship between the staggeringly high birth rate and poverty. She was also troubled by articles of the Constitution, which stated that a virgin’s consent to marriage “could be considered her silence.” Did that mean that a young girl could be pressured into a marriage to which she did not openly consent?
She also challenged the delegation on its assertion that rape did not occur in Yemen, saying that it had recently been reported that a father had been sentenced to prison for committing rape and incest. She was struck, however, by the fact that the young girl in the case was also sentenced to prison. Could the delegation explain this? she asked. Finally, she added that polygamy was economically problematic since a larger number of children depended on only one wage earner.
SAVITRI GOONESEKERE, expert from Sri Lanka, noting Yemen’s highly exploitative child labour, high birth and illiteracy rates, said discrimination against women should be seen as a development issue because no country that failed to address that problem urgently could ever achieve sustainable development. If Yemeni women could not make their contribution to society -- through denial of basic rights or education -- Yemen as a country lost out on development. If girls were put in school, they would not be exploited and women would become active and effective participants in social and economic growth.
IVANKA CORTI, expert from Italy, said that while Yemen’s efforts to promote the rights of the aged were laudable, elderly populations nevertheless, seemed particularly vulnerable to the ravages of poverty. She asked how special support programmes for the elderly -- particularly the provision of housing and food aid
-- were administered and allocated.
Ms. KAID said the Personal Status Law contained a provision that a girl could only enter into marriage if she was ready for sexual relations, which was not before 15 years of age. She said she was not comfortable with that position and there were efforts to raise the age of marriage to 18 years. Parliament, however, was resisting any kind of change in that regard. Statistics in that matter were not very detailed and she hoped that because of improvement in school enrollment that average age for marriage -- 20 for girls and 22 for boys -- would be increased.
She said there were 800 people infected with HIV/AIDS. There were awareness-raising programmes for women, and an effort was being made to establish a preventive programme. Medical and psychological aid was provided to those infected. Girls who became pregnant at an early age could indeed continue their studies and participate in literacy programmes. They were encouraged to continue their education, because education was the basis for the empowerment of women.
The fact that the movement of women was allowed only with consent of the husband was a matter of practice, she stressed. There was, however, a great deal of flexibility as many women went to university. Matrimonial relationships should be based on mutual respect, and women had responsibilities with regard to their husbands such as telling the husband where they went. Sharia did not place any restrictions on the movement of women.
Regarding inheritance, she said women had no obligation to maintain the home as their husbands did that. As in other Muslim societies, women were employed in high-ranking jobs. Islam promoted education for everybody. Programmes to combat illiteracy were implemented in partnership with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and other international agencies such as the Arab equivalent of UNESCO.
She said there was a relationship between early marriage and the desire of women to continue education, but that was a matter of choice. She had not heard anything about the man convicted of raping his daughter. That might have been propaganda, she said. Despite research, no cases of rape or incest had been found, but there were many cases of adultery.
A woman who did not like to live with an abusive husband had a legal right to ask for and obtain a divorce, she said. The fact that a divorced woman should not enter into marriage during a certain period was a custom derived from Sharia, which intended that a woman should not be pregnant before entering into marriage. Legislators had provided for cases where a man was allowed a second marriage if his wife was infertile or ill. That was in accordance with Islamic law.
Nationality was a patriotic right in Yemen, but there were provisions for dual nationality, she said. She expressed hope for progress in the matter of passing nationality from the woman to her children, but said the current provisions were in line with those in neighbouring countries.
According to Islamic teachings, she said, it was a shame on the family to abandon the elderly, but older people had the freedom to live in an independent home. There were homes for the elderly when they had nobody to take care of them. Those homes were concentrated in the bigger cities. The Social Development Fund and several charitable organizations provided assistance in housing and food.
The death penalty was still applicable in Yemen, she said in reply to another question. On another issue, she said the Ministry for Health strove to provide assistance on a monthly basis to women who had cancer, which, however, was not prevalent in Yemen, because there were many awareness-raising programmes regarding early symptoms. There were efforts to establish treatment centres for chemotherapy and the State paid for treatment for the needy.
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