Criminal Histories, Arrest and Prison Experiences of Women and Girls in Yemen

Marie-Christine Heinze

YPC Policy Report   •   May 28, 2018



Women’s security in Yemen is a private as well as a public affair. While the provision of security to women and girls is generally considered a family affair and not one of the state (allowing for innumerable cases of gender-based violence (GBV) to go unreported), the state plays a role when it comes to the arrest and detention of female ‘criminals’ as well as when it comes to the definition of what defines a ‘crime’. Over the course of the last years, as the security situation in Yemen has significantly deteriorated with the takeover of Sana’a by the Huthi rebel group in autumn 2014, the ensuing ‘coup’ in January/February 2015 and the subsequent full-out war with regional involvement that has been ongoing since, the ability of the security sector – which as such no longer exists – to address crime has been significantly hampered (if not entirely disrupted in certain areas). As the international community as well as local and national actors look for opportunities to address this issue with the aim of stabilizing those areas where stabilization efforts are feasible, the author of this report and the Yemen Polling Center (YPC) seek to support these efforts with data gathered with support by the European Union shortly before the war began (and after). This report is part of YPC’s ongoing project entitled ‘Enhancing Legal Security, Arrest Procedures, and Detention Conditions of Women and Girls’, which is financed through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) of the European Union (EU). It intends to provide those concerned with security sector reform and the penal system in Yemen with the necessary numbers and figures to better comprehend arrest procedures and detention conditions of female prisoners with the ultimate aim of enhancing the legal security of women in Yemen. The data presented in this report is mainly based on research conducted in 2014-15.1 The funding for this project was applied for in 2013 and the project officially began in March 2014, i.e. one year before the full-out civil war in Yemen with regional and international involvement began in March 2015. The field research by YPC on which this report is based was implemented between November 2014 and February 2015. As a result of the political crisis and because there was no longer a government in place to which recommendations could be addressed, YPC and the author of this report initially decided to postpone the publication of the data until the war had come to an end. As the war has dragged on much longer than anticipated, however, we have come to the conclusion that the publication of our research results should no longer be delayed, but be brought forward now in the hope that they will contribute to rebuilding and reforming the Yemeni security sector, including the penal system, whenever this is possible. YPC research staff has moreover undertaken significant efforts to provide an update on the current state of women’s prisons and detention centers. This data is based on research that was undertaken in June 2017.


Due to the lack of experience and training, and the incoherence of youth groups, projects focusing on youth should be designed with a wider time-frame. The period of any project in which youth are to become active in groups must allow space for the participants to develop positive relations with each other. Given the current condition of Yemeni society, any group of people tends to have sharp political differences that may get in the way of project implementation. Developing a strong bond before the implementation of activities could help achieve project outcome.


Projects with a focus on knowledge transfer should get the lion’s share of support, rather than projects focusing on advocacy. Many youth in Yemen lack basic opportunities because they lack access to knowledge. Knowledge transfer may include training workshops on skills necessary for advocacy and campaigning, and could entail book clubs, self-organized knowledge transfer group or Internet resource training. Supporting research projects will not only enhance the awareness of youth, but of international observers as well. A focus on research often mitigates the risks, and is a way to build the capacities of young activists, by involving them in the research and writing process.


Funders should not assume that Yemeni youth can volunteer for projects for extended periods. Given the economic crisis and lack of salaries, youth are occupied with their own survival and support for their families. These abject financial conditions must be taken in consideration when crafting a project budget, with an eye toward minimal reliance on volunteers.

Channels of communication between youth networks must be reestablished. Communication between various youth organizations has collapsed over the last three years. Activists have been forced to spread out in different countries, making communication ever more difficult. A regional conference bringing youth activists together in an effort to re-establish communication and enhance networks is an entry point.

Funders should support online activism and training workshops on remote collaboration to help counter fragmentation. Many activists have had to leave Yemen and have been occupied with important issues regarding their legal status in host countries. Others have suffered traumas due to the war. Many activists have resettled or adjusted to their new living situations. Training now needs to cover the basics to help activists adjust their working mode to their new living situation: communication platforms, collaborative platforms (for example: Trello and Doodle), collaborative word processing (Google Docs) and digital security. Other activities that could be encouraged online include knowledge transfer through the Internet, training on human rights, citizen and peace journalism, campaigning, and other civic activism tools.