‘ISIS-like behavior’: Iran-backed Houthis implement extreme measures against women

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As the Iran-backed Houthi militia intensify their violations of women’s rights in Yemen with measures including work bans and separation walls, local and international activists are speaking out.

The Houthis recently began enforcing extreme measures in areas they control, including banning women from working in restaurants and cafes, requiring a husband’s permission before purchasing birth control, and even putting up cement walls to separate female and male students in university classrooms.

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In what activists have described as “ISIS-like” behavior, members of the group’s security patrol stormed restaurants that employ female workers in the capital Sana’a last week and threatened to shut the businesses down if the female employees did not quit their jobs.

According to local news reports, the Houthis claim the presence of women in public places contradict the group’s religious beliefs.

Female employees already only worked in the designated family section of restaurants, which is separate from male customers.

The Iran-backed group also raided women’s clothing stores in areas under their control, destroying and confiscating mannequins for being too “arousing,” pan-Arab daily newspaper Asharq al-Awsat reported last week.

Also read: Houthis separate male and female students with cement walls in university classrooms

The moves were met with disdain on social media platforms, with dozens of Yemeni activists condemning the militia for restricting women’s freedoms, especially as poor living conditions increasingly worsen from the ongoing conflict and coronavirus pandemic.

“Shocking that girls are fired intentionally in Sana’a Yemen from workplaces because of the new rules of Houthis to exclude women from public life. How can they feed their families, at a time when job opportunities decreased and women became breadwinners for their families,” Yemen’s former Minister of Human Rights Hooria Mashhour wrote on Twitter.

The Houthis are also cracking down on Yemeni women’s access to contraception.

On January 28, the former adviser to the Yemeni embassy in London Baraa Shiban shared circulars issued by Houthi Minister of Health Taha al-Mutawakel to health facilities in the areas under their control, calling on them to prohibit women’s birth control.

Women may not purchase contraceptives without the consent of their husbands, the circulars said.

A marriage license must be shown, the husband must be present, and his verbal and written approval must be given before any contraceptives are issued, according to the circulars.

In May 2020, the United Nations estimated that two million women and girls of childbearing age could be at risk in Yemen due to loss of reproductive services, following the collapse of healthcare systems in Houthi-controlled areas.

Yemeni journalist Ghamdan al-Yosifi criticized the decision on Twitter, saying: “[The Houthis] take decisions without considering what will result from them: Do you know that contraceptive pills are administered by some doctors to women - even unmarried women - in order to treat hormone imbalances and to stop some cysts in the ovaries, so they are prescribed and administered under the supervision of a doctor!”

“I want my rights”

Yemeni activists launched a social media campaign using the Arabic hashtag “I want my rights” to condemn the Iran-backed group’s actions and call on the international community to help stop gender-based crimes in the country.

Yemeni women and children have been the principal victims of violence since a war broke out in the country in 2015 between the Iran-backed Houthis and the internationally-recognized government.

“Yemeni feminists launch[ed] a campaign [to] fight Houthi restrictions on women including what they wear, segregating genders in schools, banning them from working in restaurants, and banning purchase of contraceptives without husbands’ approval. Women are speaking up,” the Yemeni Feminist Movement tweeted.

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