Conditions of Women
Before the unification of North Yemen and South Yemen in 1994, women in the former South Yemen enjoyed a high degree of independence and equality. Since the unification, women have faced both new opportunities and new challenges in public life. The resurgence of Islamic values in Yemeni society has encouraged women to remain in the home and remove themselves from public life. At the same time, democratic politics have fostered women's political activity and encouraged them to play a larger role in government.
Women in Yemen can vote and hold public office. Women composed 47 percent of voters in Yemeni legislative elections of April 2003. However, the political parties refrained from running any woman on their lists. Only one independent woman candidate was able to capture a seat in parliament, whereas two women won seats in the 1997 elections. In the 2001 municipal elections, however, 35 women won seats on the municipal councils.
Yemen trails most nations in the Arab region in female education and family planning. Adult female illiteracy is over double that of men (75 percent to 33 percent in 2000), and female youth illiteracy dwarfs males (54 percent to 17 percent). The national total fertility rate (births per woman) remains high at 6.2, though it has decreased from 7.5 in 1990. Contraceptive use by Yemeni women was 22 percent in 1998. Foreign assistance programs have implemented a $31 million project to increase reproductive education and health.
Women make up 28 percent of the nation's labor force, with higher rates of participation in the South than in the North. Since unification, unemployment and increasing social discrimination has weakened women's position in the job market.
Law of Personal Status
Islamic law determines the personal status of women in Yemen. Under Yemeni personal status code, a wife must obey her husband and live with him. Men are allowed to divorce freely, while women usually ask for a divorce only when their husband has failed to support them. Women must receive permission from a male guardian to travel outside of the country. Islamic law also prohibits a wife from leaving the house without her husband's permission. All of these statutes are enforced to varying degrees. In the Islamicist North these provisions tend to be followed more closely than in the formerly socialist South. Prior to unification, half of judges in South Yemen were women. Since unification, conservative forces in the judiciary have reassigned female judges to administrative or clerical jobs. Only a few female justices currently serve in the area surrounding Aden.
The government is taking steps to increase women's presence in senior government positions. The first female undersecretary of information was appointed in 1997. The prime minister of Yemen announced in 1998 that each ministry must have a woman at the director-general level. In 1999, the country appointed its first female ambassador. In 2001, the first woman was appointed to the government as Minister of State for Human Rights; her successor in 2002 was also a woman. Both the president and prime minister have made many public statements in support of women's rights and women-focused development.
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
Yemen became a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) on May 30, 1984.
A number of Yemeni women's rights NGOs have emerged in recent years. Some of the leading groups include the Social Association for Productive Families, the Women and Children's Department of the Center for Future Studies, the Woman and Child Development Association, and the Yemeni Council for Motherhood and Childhood.