Yemen. Houthis ‘suffocate’ women with requirement to have male guardians

The de facto Houthi authorities must end their Mahram (male guardian), which prohibits women from traveling without a male guardian or proof of their written approval to Houthi-controlled governorates or other parts of Yemen, Amnesty International said today.

Increasingly since April, the tightened Houthi restrictions have prevented Yemeni women from carrying out their work, especially those who have to travel. The constraints imposed by the Mahram This requirement also applies to female Yemeni aid workers who find it difficult to carry out activities in the field, which has a direct impact on access to aid for Yemenis in need, and in particular for women and girls.

“The de facto Houthi authorities must immediately lift the Mahram requirement. This restrictive rule constitutes a form of gender discrimination and reinforces the discrimination that women in Yemen face on a daily basis. Yemeni women urgently need to be able to move freely within the country to work, seek medical care and give or receive humanitarian aid,” said Diana Semaan, Acting Deputy Director for the Middle East and South Africa. North.

“The international community should put pressure on the Huthis to stop imposing Mahram restrictions imposed on women. Yemen is already facing a catastrophic humanitarian crisis, and there is now a very real risk that women and girls will no longer receive aid if female aid workers continue to be banned from traveling without a male guardian.

Under international humanitarian law, all parties to the armed conflict in Yemen, including the Huthis, must facilitate the rapid and unimpeded passage of impartial humanitarian assistance to civilians in need and guarantee the freedom of movement of humanitarian personnel without discrimination. The Mahram restriction is contrary to this obligation.

The Mahram This requirement, which is not part of Yemeni law, is enforced by the Houthis through verbal directives. Since April, the Houthi de facto authorities have increasingly insisted on the Mahram the obligation to restrict the movement of women in areas they control in northern Yemen, including the governorates of Saada, Dhamar, Hodeidah and Hajjah, and Sanaa.

This [mahram requirement] restrictive rule constitutes a form of gender discrimination and reinforces the discrimination that women in Yemen face on a daily basis.

Diana Semaan, Amnesty International

Amnesty International interviewed five activists and members of grassroots organizations, all of whom were subjected to Mahram requirement when attempting to travel for work between April and August, and seven experts who know how Mahram the restrictions have had an impact on the delivery of humanitarian aid.

“They are suffocating us”

Afrah, 36, was told by several car rental companies in early August that she could not rent a car to travel from Sanaa to Aden governorate for work unless she was traveling with a guardian male.

“My husband had to take time off work and I had to take my daughter out of school so I could meet the Mahram need and be able to travel to Aden for my work,” she told Amnesty International. “We had to present the authorities with copies of our identity documents, the family record book which proves that we are married and a birth certificate so that my daughter could rent a car and travel.

“The Mahram restriction gives men more control over our lives and allows them to micromanage our movements and activities. They suffocate us.

Noura*, 48, was barred from renting a car to travel across the governorates in July unless she could provide written approval from her younger brother.

“My brother, who is supposed to be my Mahram, is 10 years younger than me,” she told Amnesty International. “When he gave me his written approval note, he apologized for having to do it for me.”

As Eman*, 35, was traveling in a rental car from Sanaa to Aden governorate in April, she was stopped at a security checkpoint in Sanaa for six hours. Despite the presentation of a written approval on his part Mahramthe checkpoint officer harassed her verbally and threatened to physically assault her if she got out of the car.

She told Amnesty International: “The man in charge of the checkpoint was yelling at me. He said ‘where is your Mahram? Aren’t you ashamed to travel alone? How did your parents allow you? … Then he took all my papers and my bag, and asked me where I was going and if I was working with an NGO… He said ‘I won’t let you go without a problem’.

Impeding the access of aid workers

According to seven experts familiar with the humanitarian situation and a recent report on humanitarian access to Yemen by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Mahram This requirement has become common in Houthi-controlled areas during the second quarter of 2022, which has made the movement of national female staff very difficult for all humanitarian agencies and has led to the repeated cancellation of aid deliveries. humanitarian.

Experts have told Amnesty International that aid workers who do not have Mahram for the purpose of displacement are increasingly unable to perform their work. This reality has particularly limited the access of women and girls to the aid and health services they desperately need and which are only provided by female humanitarian workers. They added that Mahram the restrictions could cause female aid workers to quit their jobs with aid organizations and therefore struggle to provide for their families.

An expert told Amnesty International: “The Mahram This requirement hampers the ability of humanitarian organizations to access all parts of the community and country to provide timely assistance, and it affects all humanitarian programs, which require humanitarian workers to work closely with women and girls. If female staff cannot access different parts of the country, it not only prevents them from doing their vital work, but it also negatively impacts the quality of the humanitarian response.

A second expert added: “The Mahram This requirement affects not only protection programs, but also health care and reproductive programs and any humanitarian assistance that requires the presence of local female staff and the provision of assistance to women and girls.


According to local rights organization Mwatana for Human Rights, Huthi restrictions on women have become increasingly repressive since 2017. Mahram limitations.

*Names changed to protect identities.

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