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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Banat al-Yaman: The Empowerment and Disenfranchisement of Yemeni Women Pre and Post Unification

  • Author(s): Alshaif, Gokh Amin
  • Advisor(s): Mehta, Aashish
  • Lezra, Esther
  • et al.

In May of 1990, the Marxist state of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) and the tribal-military polity of the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) unified to form the Republic of Yemen. However, this unification of physical borders also engendered the clash of legal and ideological borderlands of the two states. Soon, questions over the proper allocation of resources and distribution of power throughout the former regions emerged as well as questions over the role of non-government actors in the decision-making processes and the role of women in the newly unified Yemeni state. The unification period of Yemen (1989-1995) thus became a period of great change, struggle, and compromise. This study focuses on the story of Yemeni women before, during, and after this period.

It attempts to do this by focusing on two dimensions of Yemeni women’s experience during this period: (1) the evolution of their legal rights and their consequential de jure marginalization and (2) women’s de facto (dis)empowerment as experience on the ground throughout the country’s twenty governorates and capital city Sana’a. In order to explore these dimensions thoroughly, this study uses a multi-methodological approach. It is rooted in both qualitative (legal analysis) and quantitative (regression analysis) methodologies.

This thesis explores the first of these dimensions by analyzing the constitutions and family laws of the former YAR, the former PDRY, the unified Republic of Yemen, and the amended legal codes of the unified Republic of Yemen post the 1994 Civil War. I argue that after the victory of the former YAR in the 1994 Civil War, the YAR’s patriarchal legal vision of family law prevailed. This ultimately contributed to the deterioration of the legal rights of Yemeni women, particularly those women coming from the poorer and lower class of Yemeni society.

The study investigates the second dimension by using the 2013 Yemen’s National Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) to (1) measure the well-being of women in the country’s twenty governorates and capital city and (2) understand the effects the varying levels of state presence in each of these governorates has on the welfare of the women living there. Through a regression analysis, this approach allows us to better understand the relationship between state presence and women’s well-being. This, as well as the rich dataset and sample size of the DHS, gives us a glimpse of the de facto (dis)empowerment of Yemeni women throughout the country. The study finds that in almost all dimensions of ‘well-being,’ those women living in regions with greater state presence enjoy greater levels of well-being than those living in regions with less state presence.

Today, Yemen continues to be the poorest country in the Middle East, and the ongoing war has pushed the country to the brink of famine. We know through many studies on gender and development that women and children make up the poorest segment of societies and that women and children often bear the greatest casualties in conflicts and humanitarian crises. Yet, the current literature on Yemen often focuses on issues of counter-terrorism, security, or tribal conflict with little focus on gender. Thus, it is imperative that we expand the literature further to include the stories and experiences of banat al Yaman. This thesis serves as an invitation to further explore the stories of these women

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