Houthi-controlled Areas Are an Open Detention Center for Women

The Ansar Allah (Houthi) group must immediately halt its arbitrary and unlawful actions that violate the rights of Yemeni women to freedom of movement and travel.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024
Houthi-controlled Areas Are an Open Detention Center for Women

Sally Qahtan

On the evening of December 10, 2023, compelled by the oppressive measures enforced by the authorities of the Ansar Allah (Houthi) group, restricting women's travel from the group-controlled areas, I reluctantly reached out to an official within the Ansar Allah Ministry of Interior seeking an unlawful permit to travel to Aden governorate, southern Yemen. Following a brief, fruitless, and confrontational discussion, my request for a travel permit was rejected.

As the Director of the Research and Studies Unit at Mwatana for Human Rights organization, my role inherently involves frequent travel. Yet, every attempt I make to travel is met with categorical rejection by the Houthi authorities. This demonstrates the contemptuous control the authorities in Sana'a exercise over Yemeni women living in their governed territories.

Even when I am compelled to explain that my travel pertains to a relative's illness, the response remains stern and devoid of any humanitarian consideration, with statements like, 'No... There's no valid reason for travel!' The decision to grant or deny permits rests solely on the discretion of the individual authorized by the group, completely disregarding Yemeni laws and regulations, and ignoring the genuine purpose and circumstances behind the travel.

This degrading incident is not an isolated occurrence; it represents just one of many similar stories experienced by women residing in regions controlled by the Ansar Allah (Houthi) group. We have extensively documented numerous comparable cases that have been brought to our attention. Women and their families endure humiliating and offensive interrogations while applying for travel permits, violating their privacy by delving into personal details. These sessions are laden with insulting insinuations and accompanied by ostentatious sermons lacking grace and respect, all by authorities purporting to uphold virtue, customs, and traditions.

For nearly five years, the arbitrary measures enforced by the Ansar Allah (Houthi) group have obstructed thousands of Yemeni women from fulfilling their work responsibilities, especially those whose jobs involve travel. These unlawful restrictions have profoundly affected Yemeni female workers, notably in crucial sectors like healthcare and humanitarian aid, leading to enduring hardships. Moreover, these constraints directly impede the delivery of vital humanitarian assistance to those most in need, significantly impacting women and girls in particular.

The denial of travel rights to Yemeni women showcases the flagrant disregard of the Yemeni Constitution by the Ansar Allah (Houthi) group. Article 57 in Part Two "The Basic Rights and Duties of Citizens" explicitly guarantees freedom of movement. By imposing their own beliefs and religious ideologies, the Ansar Allah group not only violates national laws but also undermines the foundational principles outlined in the constitution. This action directly contradicts the constitutional mandate and infringes upon the rights of Yemeni women and men alike.

Over the last two years, Mwatana has meticulously documented numerous violations perpetrated by the Ansar Allah (Houthi) group, systematically undermining civic space and women's rights within their controlled regions. The prohibition on women's travel and movement between Yemeni governorates serves as only one segment within a persistent series of violations.

Since the Ansar Allah (Houthi) group took control of Sana'a in September 2014, Yemen has experienced a distressing regression in women's rights. Women have faced severe limitations on their ability to work and endured enforced gender-based segregation in public spaces. They've been mandated to have a Mahram [a close relative escort] and adhere to specific dress codes. Moreover, their enterprises have been forcibly closed down, and they've been subjected to demands that surpass their capabilities.

While many societies endeavor to empower women, enabling greater participation in decision-making and public life, the Ansar Allah (Houthi) group actively seeks to restrict women's roles. Their efforts undermine women's presence and contributions in public life, often disgracefully erasing their significance. This constitutes a flagrant form of gender-based discrimination and a stark regression from the hard-earned national progress made over decades.

The Ansar Allah (Houthi) group must take immediate action to halt their arbitrary and unlawful restrictions that obstruct the rights of Yemeni women to move and travel freely. They should revoke all recently imposed measures that detrimentally impact Yemeni women and their families, who advocate for their rights with awareness and responsibility.