Tag Archives: Suad Abu-Dayyeh

8 Thursday, May 2014

Yemen to Ban Child Marriage and FGM

By Suad Abu-Dayyeh, Equality Now

As dusk falls over the Fun City amusement park, a mother watches her children spin on a ride featuring an unveiled version of Fulla, a Barbie doll alternative popular among Middle Eastern girls in Sana, Yemen, Nov. 13, 2012. Moments like this offer relief from troubles, but the “emergence of a new dawn” heralded by Yemen’s 2011 peace Nobelist, Tawakkol Karman, eludes much of the country. Stephanie Sinclair/ VII
As dusk falls over the Fun City amusement park, a mother watches her children spin on a ride featuring an unveiled version of Fulla, a Barbie doll alternative popular among Middle Eastern girls in Sana, Yemen, Nov. 13, 2012. Moments like this offer relief from troubles, but the “emergence of a new dawn” heralded by Yemen’s 2011 peace Nobelist, Tawakkol Karman, eludes much of the country. Stephanie Sinclair/VII

Yemen is likely to vote on a comprehensive ‘Child Rights Act’ over the coming months, which would ban both child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM). 

 After years of pressure from both national and international organizations, including Equality Now, on April 27th, Mohammad Makhlafi, minister for legal affairs, submitted the proposed wide-ranging legislation to Mohammad Basindawa, Yemeni prime minister.  If approved by Basindawa, the next step would be a review by the cabinet’s council of ministers.  Upon agreement by the cabinet, it would go to a parliamentary discussion and vote.
 
The new law proposes to establish the international human rights standard of 18 as the minimum age of marriage and impose fines on guardians, signatories, marriage officials and any other witnesses who have knowledge that either marriage participant is under this age. 
 
Now that the ‘National Dialogue’ has been completed – a lengthy process that aimed to make recommendations for a new Yemeni constitution – it is heartening to see that its outcomes, including setting a minimum age of marriage, are being translated into official legislation.  This new push has been endorsed by Hooria Mashhour, minister for human rights, while others in government have also taken a strong leadership role.  
However, successful passage of the law is far from certain, and a previous 2009 attempt to fix the minimum age of marriage for girls at 17 was blocked by traditional and religious leaders and the parliament’s Shariah committee.  On this occasion, the president has increased power and can overrule.  It is unclear whether or not he would do so, but the process has shown more general support for protecting girls from early marriage.
 
According to the United Nations, over half of Yemeni girls are married by the age of 18.  This serious human rights violation is extremely harmful to a girl’s physical, psychological and emotional health and well-being, but also means that her education and future prospects are severely compromised. Complications during sexual intercourse and childbirth put the girl at particularly high risk of harm and even maternal mortality.
 
Furthermore, child marriage does not take place in a vacuum, as detailed in Equality Now’s new report on ‘Protecting the Girl Child: Using the Law to End Child, Early and Forced Marriage and Related Human Rights Violations’.  This comprehensive report illustrates how such marriages are part a continuum of abuse and discrimination experienced by a young girl – often linked with related abuses such as sexual violence and FGM.  When a child bride gives birth, the violence and discrimination continue for future generations until the cycle of abuse is broken. 
 
With this in mind, we welcome additional articles in the ‘Child Rights Act’ that propose banning FGM, which affects 23 percent of Yemen’s female population – as well as other forms of violence against children such as child labor. 
 
In dealing with the rights of the girl child in a holistic way, Yemen is recognizing that an interlinked approach is essential to ensuring that girls at risk are protected at an early stage from a lifetime of abuse.  However, such a holistic approach would mean that the health, education and justice systems need to be adequately resourced not only financially, but also in terms of each actor knowing what role and responsibility they have in ensuring that the law is effectively implemented and that girls are properly educated about their rights. 
 
In recent months, neighboring countries have made moves in both directions.  In the Sindh province of Pakistan – the part of the country with the highest prevalence – the local assembly voted in favor of a law establishing 18 as the minimum age of marriage.  Regulations in Saudi Arabia were allegedly drafted last year, but we have yet to hear confirmation of when these might be realized. 
 
Unfortunately, proposed legislative changes in the region have not all been positive.  A potential Iraqi draft law, which would permit 9-year-old girls to marry, has at least been shelved for the moment.  However, moves like this are indicative of the possibility of the rights of women and girls to also slide backwards, at a time when huge strides are being made in the right direction.
 
It is hoped that in Yemen, the various authorities will seize the new opportunity for major advances to be made – not only for its female population, but for the entire country.  As long as Yemeni women and girls are at risk of violence and discrimination, lives are destroyed and potential is wasted.  We hope that on this occasion, traditional and religious leaders will ensure that the law is passed by the Shariah committee and help to make a resounding step forward toward a new future for Yemen, where the rights of girls are firmly at the forefront.
Suad Abu-Dayyeh joined Equality Now as a consultant for the Middle East and North Africa in 2008. Before joining the organization, Ms. Abu-Dayyeh worked for ten years with the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling in Jerusalem (WCLAC). WCLAC is a Palestinian feminist NGO which works to address gender-based violence within the Palestinian Society in both the private and public spheres. Ms. Abu-Dayyeh holds a master’s in “Women & Development” from the Institute of Social Studies in the Netherlands and bachelor’s degrees in Social Work and Law from Bethlehem University and Al Ahliyya Amman University in Jordan. Currently, she is pursuing a master’s in Public Law at Middle East University Jordan.
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23 Monday, December 2013

Give the gift of protection to a girl in Yemen–in 30 seconds

Roughly 27 child brides are forced into marriage in communities around the world every minute of every day.

But it takes only 30 seconds (seriously, we timed it) to sign Equality Now’s petition calling on the government of Yemen to enact a law establishing a minimum age of marriage. It’s a key first step to protecting the rights of girls in a country where fully one-third will be married as children.

Nujood Ali is an international heroine for women's rights and Too Young to Wed's poster child. Now divorced, she is back home with her family and attending school again. This image also appears at the Women of Vision: National Geographic Photographers on Assignment exhibit in D.C. Photo © 2012 Stephanie Sinclair / VII
Nujood Ali is an international heroine for women’s rights and Too Young to Wed’s poster child. Now divorced, she is back home with her family and attending school again. This image also appears at the Women of Vision: National Geographic Photographers on Assignment exhibit in D.C. Photo © 2012 Stephanie Sinclair / VII

Some of you may remember the moving story of Nujood Ali, who was 10 in 2008 when she bravely fled from her much older abusive husband to the courthouse in Sanaa—where she asked for, and was ultimately granted, a divorce. The following year, Yemen’s parliament considered establishing a minimum age of marriage of 17, but efforts faltered when conservative lawmakers characterized the effort as anti-Islam. Yemen’s human rights minister has called for that legislation to be reconsidered, and Equality Now’s petition is designed to support those efforts.

Nujood’s story grabbed international headlines, but literally thousands of girls just like her face the prospect each year of being married off in Yemen—14.2 million girls around the world. Equality Now and its partners Yemeni Women Union (YWU) and Arab Human Rights Foundation (AHRF) are working hard to not only stop those marriages, but to help married girls obtain divorces and protection.

Suad Abu-Dayyeh, Equality Now’s Middle East/North Africa consultant, was kind enough to explain the situation in Yemen to us in a Q-and-A below. We urge you to read her responses, sign the Equality Now petition by Jan. 1, 2014, and urge your loved ones to do the same.

In 2009, efforts to establish a legal minimum age of marriage in Yemen were defeated by conservatives in Parliament who insisted that such a law would go against Islam. What has changed since then? How can supporters of such legislation assure its passage this time around? What new arguments are being employed to convince lawmakers that setting a minimum marriage age is the right thing to do?

Yemen is currently undergoing a ‘national dialogue’ process, which seeks to debate the future of the state and draft a new constitution. We are hopeful that previous grievances can be put aside and a productive collaboration between parties to ensure that all girls at risk of child marriage are properly protected will develop. This is a fundamental and non-negotiable human rights issue, as opposed to a political concern.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) agreement of 2011 states that parliamentarians should agree on suggested laws, so cross-party support is important. Arguments in favour of ensuring a minimum age of marriage have not changed, but the political situation has changed since the National Dialogue Conference.

Yemeni Human Rights Minister Hooria Mashhour has asked that the legislation considered in 2009 be reintroduced for consideration. What legal steps need to be taken to have that legislation reintroduced? Who within the government do supporters need to contact to make that happen?

According to the Gulf Cooperation Council agreement of 2011, the parliament should vote collectively on suggested drafts laws. This could be a challenge, but consensus is possible. Alternatively, a request could be made from the fantastic Human Rights Minister, Hooria Mashhour, or the speaker of the house, Yahia Al-Ra’i, to introduce and vote on the suggested draft law. If the parliament doesn’t agree, the president can intervene and issue a decree.  We are hopeful that in such a scenario, the president would recommend that a minimum age of marriage is introduced.

Your petition has more than 1,800 signatures on it now. How many ideally would you like to send to Yemen? How many signatures would it take to get parliament to address this issue? Is there an official process by which it can be presented so it becomes part of the public, official record?

We are very grateful to everyone who has signed so far. There is no ideal number as such – every signature matters and helps to put pressure on the relevant authorities to re-introduce the minimum age of marriage bill. We are working both publically and behind the scenes to advocate for change.

When is the petition slated to be sent to Yemen? Is there a deadline by which supporters should sign it?

We are constantly working on this issue with our local partners in Yemen – we urge supporters to sign as soon as they possibly can as there may be a limited opportunity to get the proposed legislation introduced as part of the National Dialogue process, which is due to end in the near future. We do not know what the exact date might be, but the process is likely to end early 2014.

--- Stephanie Sinclair/VII
— Stephanie Sinclair/VII

Other than setting a minimum age for marriage, what else would the law need to address for it to be effective in Yemen?

Without a minimum age of marriage, there is no legal protection for girls at risk of child marriage, so this is the most important element. However, we also urge the Yemen government to ensure that child brides who have ended their marriages are supported and safeguarded.

In the meantime, absent a marriage law, how have Equality Now and Yemen Women’s Union been able to assist young girls who have been married against their will or are in danger of being married? Besides signing the petition, what can regular members of the public do to assist EN and YWU in their efforts?

Without a minimum age of marriage, any efforts made to protect girls at risk are just piecemeal and unsystematic. There is a significant amount of support for safeguarding girls at risk, but ensuring legal protection and justice for these girls is the cornerstone of their empowerment. Without a law, girls continue to be put in harm’s way. As well as signing the petition, we encourage members of the public to spread the word about this campaign by sharing the Action and increasing awareness of this issue as much as they can through their own networks.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about this issue?

The Yemeni government is legally bound to introduce and approve this bill. The failure of the Yemeni government to ban child marriage is a violation of their international obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and also the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), both of which contain provisions against child marriage or practices prejudicial to the health of children. In 2012, the UN Human Rights Committee in its examination of Yemen’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), called on Yemen to “set a minimum age for marriage that complies with international standards.”

Along with our partners, Yemeni Women Union (YWU) and Arab Human Rights Foundation (AHRF), we enthusiastically support Minister Mashhour in her efforts to ensure that the government of Yemen lives up to its obligations under international law. We also urge the general public to help put pressure on the government of Yemen to make the rights of women and girls a priority, to pass and enforce a law prohibiting child marriage, and to ensure the safety and human rights of child brides who have ended their marriages.

Suad Abu-Dayyeh, Middle East/North Africa Consultant, Equality Now

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