No law to end the harassment against women

8 Nov
Malak Shaher
Yemen Times

Published:08-11-2010

There is currently no law in Yemen protecting women against harassment and no fixed punishments currently exist for perpetrators, according to Majed Al-Mathhaji, an activist at Al-Shaqaeq Forum for Defending Women’s Rights.

A report on sexual harassment was published by the Athar Foundation for Development in 2009. It contains the results of a survey of 540 women across five districts in Sana’a, and included women from all walks of life, including housewives, school and university students, public employees and professional working women.

Of those surveyed, 98.9 percent of women said they had been exposed to some sort of harassment in the streets in the four month period of the survey. But less than three percent of the incidents of harassment against women were reported to the authorities.

“Unfortunately, there is no specific article in the law defining the rights of women who’ve been harassed or defining punishments for those doing the harassing,” said Iman Madgha, head of the Athar Foundation. “All they do in the police stations is beat the perpetrator up and impose a fine of more than YR 3,000 in court if they are imprisoned.”

Those women who do report incidents to the police require at least two witnesses to support their claim, according to Yahya Al-Thanebi, the administrative deputy of the 22 May police station. Al-Thanebi explained that punishments for men arrested for harassing women include beatings and having their head shaved.

“If a woman comes to us with two witnesses supporting that someone had harassed her, we would find the man in question, beat him up, shave off his hair and send him to the prosecution,” said Al-Thanebi. “If he repeated the act, we’d beat him up again, shave off his mustache, and send him to the prosecution where they would impose a fine.”

According to Al-Thanebi, the last case reported to them involved a father of five who physically assaulted a woman in Hayel Street in Sana’a. The man was beaten until he cried.

Around 58 percent of women surveyed believed that society will not support them if they report incidents. Only 12 cases were reported to authorities in the four months of the survey, in which nine cases were reported to police centers, two cases to a neighborhood leader, and one case was reported to the woman’s superior, according to report.

Women in Yemen are fearful of telling their families if they’ve been exposed to any kind of harassment as it often means they are then prevented from going out alone. Rana Yahia, 18, was harassed five months ago. Since then, her father has prevented her from going out alone, even in the day.

“I am afraid that my father will now prevent me from going to university next year,” she said. “I regret telling my family what happened to me.”

Harassment causes social, educational and professional problems for many women. The report stated that over 58 percent of the surveyed women said that they were negatively affected socially, or in their education or professional life by harassment. Over 96 percent reported that they were negatively effected psychologically by the harassment.

The most common type of harassment is verbal abuse which was experienced by 90.2% of the women surveyed. Next, 82 percent said they were victims of physical harassment, 65.4 percent said that they were bothered by phone calls, 48.3 said that the perpetrator had exposed themselves, and 30.3 percent experienced stalking.

Two weeks ago, Rasha Ahmad, 23, was on a bus when a man touched her on the shoulders in an intimate way. “I turned around and looked at him in surprise, but he pretended nothing had happened. Unfortunately, no one helped me,” she said.

“Harassment has become an everyday routine in my life, to the point that not hearing verbal harassment in the street is weird. It has become contagious, even small children are entering the world of harassment,” she added.

In response to the issue of harassment of women in 2010, the Athar Foundation with the help of the Ministry of Endowments, asked the mosque’s imams to allocate a couple of minutes in their Friday sermons to tell people that women are their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters and to respect them.

The foundation will carry out the second phase of its awareness campaign in 2011, targeting men and asking them why they harass women. The foundation is also due to present a proposal to parliament out-lining a new law against harassment.

//

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