The Yemeni constitution blithely states the concept of equality for men and women. It is an umbrella provision which in actuality is undermined by a line of provisions within the constitution itself and also by provisions within the family code.

Sisters of men

Article 31 describes women as ‘sisters of men’. It is a phrase loaded with meaning even though at face value it looks innocuous enough. The effect is women’s second-class status is codified.

Article 40 states a woman must obey her husband and prevents her from leaving the house without his permission. Article 12 allows him to have up to 4 wives providing her treats them equally and can support them. Article 59 allows a man to divorce at will but allows women only certain circumstances under which she may divorce, and remember she can’t leave the house without permission.

An unending cycle

Only 40% of female children are educated even at a basic level. (The number for boys is over 60%.) Without the ability to read or write it is practically impossible to get a job and certainly not one where women are able to make any real difference.

In the poorer areas, and the war-torn country has many, the logic will be the old argument of what is the point of educating girls as they are only going to be married anyway. That brings us to the next part of the problem.

Women have little to no control over whom or when they will marry

In 2009 there was an attempt to get the legal age of marriage to be 17 and no younger. It was overturned. Girls are seen as a drain on resources and so marriage means one less mouth to feed. With the consent of their guardian who will usually be their father, girls can be married at any age. Theoretically, they must be allowed to reach the age of puberty before becoming sexually active.

The tricky problem of honor

Strict religious laws and codes of conduct mean, for women especially, there are endless ways in which they can be seen to compromise male honor. One way of ensuring a young girl cannot fall for the wrong boy, or somehow disgrace the family is to marry her off early.

The accepted penalty for a man who has murdered a female relative for reasons of honor is a 12-month sentence. For any woman who is perceived as having transgressed against the rules of honor and is found guilty of crimes against it, the penalty is normally a death.

The message is clear.

A woman’s value is about half that of a man. If it comes to a judicial situation his word will carry twice hers. Financial compensation paid to the family of a murdered women is half the sum paid to a man’s family.

Unless there is a way for women to get some level of education this situation is destined to remain this way.

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