Foreign Policy Blogs

Standing up for Women’s Rights

Amal Hassan, a young mother of three, began fighting to promote women’s rights in Yemen based on her own experiences of injustice. Amal always aspired to better herself academically as she felt she truly came alive when she was learning new things, her mind opening up to novel possibilities and ideas. Like many women across Yemen, Amal is bright and gifted, she only wanted to be given the opportunity to choose her path in life, not to be forced onto a mold by others.
Raised in a traditional Muslim Yemeni household which idea of morality and properness was to stifle their girls and relegate them to household duties for her father feared social stigma, Amal was denied her hopes and dreams. And because Amal’s fighting spirit pushed her to challenge her elders’ authority, demanding to be taken seriously, her family chose to marry her off, transferring the responsibility of looking after her to another.
When a university professor came to ask for her hand in marriage, Amal thought she had found her ticket out, convinced as she was that her husband-to-be would understand her academic aspirations. And if indeed he allowed her to attend university she had to make her own way, scrapping through her savings and selling off the gold she was given as dowry. But most troubling of all, Ahmed turned out to be an abusive and controlling husband. For 13 long years Amal’s nightmare continued. Despite her cries for help and her visible distress her family chose to turn a blind eye for divorce in Yemen equates to becoming a social pariah.
Her brother, Mogib a freelance journalist came to her rescue and stood by her side against everyone else as she announced she was seeking a divorce from her monster of a husband. Mogib revealed that although Ahmed was quite well off financially he let Amal and her children live in a state of semi-misery, spending his money on carnal pleasures and other frivolities. “His status of Professor and his connections within the ruling party led him to believe he could do whatever he wanted without having to face his responsibilities.”
Upon discovering that her husband had taken yet another wife, Amal decided that it was time for her to claim her freedom and walk away from this unhappy and loveless marriage. She filed for divorce. After many trials and tribulations, Ahmed finally agreed to let her go given provision that she would pay him the sum of $15,000, money he claimed he spent on her over the course of their years together.
As Amal thought she had been given a new lease on life, Ahmed went on betraying her in the vilest way possible.
Whenever a divorce is pronounced in a Court of Law in Yemen, the legal text stipulates that the husband has the unilateral right to revoke the ruling, recall his wife and annul the divorce for a period of 3 months. 5 days before the end of the time-period, Ahmed went to a local clerk and exercised his “recall” right. Unable to contemplate the idea of being forced back to her husband she despised, Amal fled to Egypt with her brother and children.

Scared to come back to Yemen after having left without the necessary marital authorization, Amal turned to human rights activists, NGOs, journalists, the UN, everyone for help; hoping that someone somewhere would listen. And indeed someone did pay attention.
A few days ago, and with the help of Human Rights Minister Hooria Mashour, Amal and Mogib were allowed under escort to go through Sana’a International Airport without fear of being apprehended. Touched by this young lady’s tale, Minister Mashour said that she wanted Amal to become the cornerstone of a new campaign for Women Rights in Yemen, adding that the Ministry would put its weight behind the project. And although Amal knows that she still has a long fight ahead of her, she now knows that she is not alone and that her plight has been heard. Indeed there is hope for a better tomorrow.

Like thousands of women across Yemen, Amal is the victim of a system that has so far denied women their God-given rights, forgetting that the strong and powerful have a duty to protect those less fortunate. Today Amal is becoming the voice of Yemen’s victims, and we should listen!



Catherine Shakdam
Catherine Shakdam

Although French by birth, my studies and my professional life led me to live for many years in the United Kingdom and in the Middle East.
Armed with a Master in Finance, a Bachelor degree in Psychology and 5 languages under my belt I managed to make my way through the maze of the Trading World of Wall Street, as an equity consultant. However, my interest for Politics and the Middle East gave me the necessary push to launch me as a "writer". Since then, I have voiced my opinions via my Blog and various publications such as the Middle East Post, the Guardian UK, and now Foreign Policy Association. I currently live in London.