Political Analysis

Yemeni female prisoners: between bitterness and social rejection

National Yemen

Female Prisoner in Yemen

Asma al-Mohattwari 

Safi did not commit any crime that deserved imprisonment. She was only friends with a man in a society that did not believe in that. Since her childhood, she used to have her friend drive her places because she trusted him, and never thought about it. One night, though, his car stalled and he went to repair it. A group of men demanded money from them, otherwise they would call the police and imprison them for immorality. The two friends did not listen, and as a result, Safi found herself in jail.

Safi didn’t face as many problems in prison as she did with society and her family. Once they found out, they left her to face things alone. One year passed, and when she was released, her eyes were filled with tears.

“Where can I go? My family will not accept me. The prison is the best for me.”

No one was waiting for her upon her release. She eventually asked a taxi driver to marry her. However, he immediately began to prostitute her to other men, eventually leading her to once again be thrown in prison.

Women who leave prison find it hard to be accepted by their families, as well as society, due to them being looked at as shameful and without respect. Najla al-Sani, lawyer and director of the legal department for Yemeni Women’s Union in the Executive Office, said that family abandonment is a huge problem because it traps women in a life of crime.

“Some female prisoners enter the prison because of very simple charges, but in prison they recognize women who are professionals in the crimes and prostitution cases, so they sympathize with them, and when they go out, these professionals send them to another network to adopt them and employ them in other big crimes.”

Female prisoners also face many difficulties inside the prison. According to al-Sani, the biggest problems facing women prisoners are strikes among judges and prosecutors, which can push back their sentences for months, since the sentences are only handed out once a month.

Al-Sani says that fortunately, female prisoners are safer in more developed prisons.

“Prison managers are striving to provide a better atmosphere for the prisoners and more organizations have become more interested in the women’s prisons. Before, it was not allowed for anyone to visit the prison so no one knew what is happening, but now, there is more control because researchers and NGOs can access and notes can be taken.”

The number of women crimes varies from province to another, for example, murders are more common in Ibb, while Aden and Hodeida are dominated by ethical issues like prostitution, wine and drugs. In Sana’a, all kinds of crimes can be found. There are currently seventy-five female prisoners in Sana’a.

Although some are in prison unluckily, others have chosen to live their for their entire lives because there is no one to receive them. Yemeni Women’s Union plays a significant role to these women, such as through Al-Weam House, which houses female prisoners and rehabilitates women who were abandoned by their parents.

Sociologist Samar Najeep says that prison should not be seen as an ultimate cell of punishment. Rather, it should be a waystation for correcting someone’s life path, and balancing their future.

“I wonder if the lives and future of some prisoners stop when entering the prison, not because she is afraid of it, but because society is afraid, and then she becomes a prisoner of her own suspicions, doubts, and bleak future.”