Local News

Servitude, Not Marriage

National Yemen

Asma al-Mohattwari

Twelve years ago, Hamod Nasser decided that his daughter Marim, 17-years-old, would marry an elderly man Abdulkarim, 60-years-old. She accepted, thinking that she might escape poverty and create her own small family. But she was innocent in her thinking. She spent twelve years as a servant for him and his sister, not as a wife. She never slept with him and she is still a virgin. Marim couldn’t complain because of traditions. After a long time, Marim decided to break her fear and silence.

She told her family everything and they were shocked. Her father Hamod asked her husband to divorce her but he refused. Hamod turned to the courts asking for justice, but under the prestige of money the judiciary would not help without payment.

Three years passed and the family couldn’t pay the greedy judge and husband for their difficult living conditions. Marim didn’t expect to run away from the slavery of her husband to the slavery of the court and the judge. All she can do is ask for the help of the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Human Rights, the Chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council, the Yemeni Women Union and human rights and humanitarian organizations.

Many Yemeni girls live under the burden of economic problems, which is one of the primary motivations for child marriage in the country. Mohammed Ali, a father of five daughters, said that he was fired from his job three years ago, and lost the income needed to provide them with a good education and a comfortable life.

“I feel really guilty when I accept a marriage proposal for one of my daughters while she is still a child, but nothing is in my hands. Poverty leaves no other path in front of me.”

Academic studies say that 52% of Yemeni girls accept marriage in their early years to escape poverty. The study said that boys are also affected by the phenomenon.

According to researchers, poverty is the primary cause of child marriage, while the second is some lingering traditions such as a fear of spinsterhood, regarding women as a burden, and also the attractiveness of a rich person’s offer of marriage. Unfortunately, most movements against the issue have only targeted the second cause, ignoring the poverty element.

Yemen’s Personal Status Law of 1994 sets the minimum age of marriage at 15 years, but official sources say that amendments have made it ambiguous and unclear. The current law states that only a girl’s trustee has the right to decide whether she is ready for marriage, which greatly decreases the government’s ability to act on the issue.

Violence against women in Yemen is an issue that has sat enveloped in silence for a long time. Now, finally, it is being recognized as a topic in serious need of discussion among the Yemeni people and government. The government’s recognition of gender-based violence is a first step in the process of finding solutions to this phenomenon.

Human development cannot be achieved without a healthy and safe environment for both genders. Communities are fighting hunger and poverty in their attempts to develop, but many do not understand that without respecting women’s rights and female empowerment, communities cannot develop.

According to a recent report from the World Economic Forum (WEF), not one country in the world has successfully eliminated its gender gap but while the scope of gender inequality has narrowed in some countries, in other countries women continue to severely trail men in economic participation, educational attainment, political empowerment, and even basic health outcomes. Unfortunately, Yemen is one of the 10 worst countries for women.

Yemen is ranked the world’s worst country for women in 2014, according to the WEF. In addition to being one of the worst countries in women’s economic participation and opportunity, Yemen received some of the world’s worst scores in relative educational attainment and political participation for females. Just half of women in the country could read, versus 83% of men. Further, women accounted for just 9% of ministerial positions and for none of the positions in parliament.