Yemen must end male guardianship rule for women prisoners, Amnesty says
Amnesty International is calling for the release of women in Yemen who have completed their prison sentences but remain detained because they don’t have a male guardian to be discharged to.
“They say it is impossible to leave without a male guardian,” explained a former prison official who used to work at the Houthi-controlled Sana’a central prison. “One woman has been arbitrarily detained for five years following the completion of her sentence, another was held for two months until her son came from abroad to escort her out of prison.”
The condition of releasing women from prison based on the approval of a male guardian is a customary practice in Yemen, and has no legal basis, Yemeni lawyers told Amnesty International.
“The law prohibits detention following the completion of sentence regardless of the gender of the individual. We need community pressure from organisations and activists to end this practice,” one lawyer said.
“Male guardianship is a tool of social control over women’s lives and freedoms and must not be legitimised through such practices,” said Grazia Careccia, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “Authorities must work on eliminating discrimination against women by ending male guardianship in law and practice, even when this requires challenging existing social norms.”
Women whose families refuse to receive them can only be released to women’s shelters. The women’s shelter in Taiz, in southwestern Yemen, currently hosts seven women released from prison.
“We established this shelter in 2020 and we succeeded in transferring here all the women who had completed their sentences and the prosecutor’s office facilitated this [process]. There were 23 women back then,” said the director of the Centre for the Protection and Rehabilitation of Women and Girls. “These women need to be supported and offered rehabilitation to be able to reintegrate into society. We do this because society rejects women after they go to prison.”
Women’s shelters offer a rehabilitation programme to acquire or strengthen their professional skills. Some women get married and leave the shelter and others stay until they find a job. In some cases, the shelter administration manages to reconcile the women with their families so they can return home.
Once a woman is ready to permanently leave the shelter, the prison authorities have to be notified, despite the lack of a legal basis to prevent her exit.
Women’s shelters don’t address the male guardianship restriction, highlights Amnesty International. “Authorities in Yemen must open shelters for women at risk but also ensure that no woman is forced to reside there without her consent,” said Grazia Careccia.
She added: “It is unacceptable that authorities still view and treat women as incomplete individuals, with no agency and who need to be accompanied by male guardians in day-to-day lives. Customary traditions must evolve, like societies do, to ensure that human rights and dignity are respected.”
Featured image: Sana’a, Yemen. Photo: Matt May / CC BY 2.0
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