A cruel tradition: Female prisoners abandoned by their families

National Yemen

Team committee discuss the documentary film challenges in the live of female prisoners

By:  Asma Al-Mohattwari

At a time when the world is preparing to move, to live in surrounding galaxies, reaching the highest degrees of possibilities, of information technology, Yemeni women continue to suffer as a result of customs and traditions.

Women have always been forced to fight for their rights and to gain respect and freedom. In Yemen, this is especially and particularly true. Females, from their childhood on through their adult life, experience various violations of their rights – be it in the workplace, in their families, their married lives or as they pursue an education.  However, those battling through such fights for such rights do, in fact, have a luxury which isn’t granted to a group of Yemeni women who stand separate and apart.

Freedom. In other words, what female Yemeni prisoners lack.

Women in prison are exposed to abuses and hardships which are rarely spoken of outside their cell walls; all the more so since they are the forgotten in a conservative and reserved society such as this.

Circumstances led some to prison, yet a majority asserted that their husbands were the cause of their entrance into prison.

Zeinab is one of the prisoners with just such a story involving a husband. According to Zeinab, her husband was a very poor man, but she loved him a lot and gave him all that she had inherited from her late father.

While before he would tell her that she was everything in his life, after he took everything, Zeinab said he announced that he had decided to marry another woman.

Zeinab said it was a tremendous shock for her. “After all, when he said that he would marry another woman, he forgot, he denied all our beautiful years…” Zeinab decided to prevent him from marrying. A few days before he was set to return with his new – and second – wife, she killed him using a kitchen knife.

She entered his room while he was sleeping and ended his life by stabbing different parts of his body. “I’m don’t regret that I killed him – and he deserved more – but really I regretted the beautiful years I lived with him in honesty while he was just being disingenuous,” she said.

Female prisoners cannot receive their freedom after finishing their prison sentences. A guardian is supposed to receive her from prison. If a guardian doesn’t turn up, she will be forced to stay in prison for weeks, months and years until the expected guardian appears.

What makes prison even more difficult is abandonment by parents. Many families with daughters simply end up leaving their daughters behind and deny that they had a daughter to begin with. Samia was accused of theft and after finishing her sentence, her family refused to receive her.

“I didn’t even receive a visit from my family during the period of my imprisonment; my relations with my family ended the day I entered the prison,” said Samia with tears in her eyes.

Social workers have said that the reasons behind some parents’ refusal to receive their once-loved daughters after they’ve finished their sentences in different cases include family opinions of prison and customs and family traditions which translate into a rejection of the existence of a female relative who has been in prison.

The female prisoner is often exposed to various forms of violence and neglect. They face different forms of discrimination against them throughout the investigative and legal stages of their individual cases.

Lawyer Abdual-Rahman Barman said the most difficult stage for the prisoner is the investigative stage with the CID and police stations, when the woman is not allowed to have a lawyer to defend herself, and may be subjected to torture, beatings and solitary confinement. Female prisoners claim that they are often threatened with rape at the very least; meanwhile, family members and relatives often disavow any relation to them.

“A girl was arrested along with a taxi driver on charges of ‘illegal privacy’; due to a lack of evidence, prosecutors released the taxi driver after four days; meanwhile the girl remained at the central prison after her family essentially abandoned her,” said Barman.

Regarding the treatment female inmates receive inside prisons, Barman said that women don’t receive sufficient health services and that even the amount of food provided them is insufficient. On top of all this, Barman added that it’s a matter of course for them to receive ill treatment from the prison guards.

On the other hand, Ramzia Al-Eriani, the head of the Yemen Women’s Union, deprecated what she saw as rumors about the prisons’ poor condition, as well as the inhumane treatment and exploitation of prisoners.

“Over multiple visits to women’s prisons in various governorates, we saw that the prison administrators provided rehabilitation, training and reform,” said Al-Eriani.