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Women in Public Spaces - Yemen

Women’s ability to move freely and safely in public spaces supports their ability to fully participate in the civic, political, and economic life of their communities. The SWMENA survey asked women in Yemen how free or restricted they felt in associating with persons of their own choosing; expressing their views on critical issues to family members, neighbors or friends; leaving their house without permission; and moving about in public areas without fear or pressure.

  • Figure 1 shows that only slightly over one-half of women in Yemen (56%) feel completely free to associate with persons of their own choosing, and one-fifth of women (20%) feel somewhat free to do so. Another one-fifth of women feel either somewhat (9%) or completely (11%) restricted in their choices of association.
  • Almost the same number of women report freedom concerning their abilities to express themselves on views critical to family members. Twenty-four percent of women said that they are somewhat free and slightly fewer are somewhat restricted (9%) in this area of activity.
  • More than half (52%) of Yemeni women say they feel completely or somewhat free to move about in public areas without fear or pressure. At the same time, 42% of women feel at least somewhat (12%) or completely (30%) restricted to move about as they might in public areas, without fear or pressure from others.
  • In addition, approximately half of all Yemeni women report being completely restricted from leaving their house without permission (47%) and another 15% say they are somewhat restricted. Conversely, about one-third (36%) say they feel completely or somewhat free to leave the house without permission.
  • It might help to understand that ‘associating with persons of own choosing’ takes place within certain culturally-appropriate settings, and does not translate exactly to what one may perceive as ‘freedom of association.’ For example, this association may be within households, schools, workplaces, etc., but not necessarily in all public atmospheres.

The survey asked respondents who said they felt somewhat or completely restricted in moving about in public areas why they felt this way. Open-ended responses were coded into categories.

The top three most frequently cited reasons are shown in Table 1. Eighty percent of women gave one of these three reasons.“Husband or parents opposition to my going out” was cited by almost two-thirds of all women (60%), while annoyances on the street (14%) was cited much less frequently.

Figure 2 shows that there are significant differences in freedom of mobility among women by marital status, age, educational attainment, work status and region.

  • Married and single women are more than two or three times as likely as formerly married women to feel somewhat or completely restricted from leaving the house without permission: only 33% of married women and 23% of single women feel somewhat or completely free in leaving the house without permission, compared to 72% who are widowed or divorced.
  • Younger women are much more likely than older women to report restrictions on their freedom to leave the house, suggesting that this freedom increases with age: women ages 55 and older are more than seven times as likely as women ages 18-24 to feel completely free to leave the house (59% and 8% respectively). In fact, women ages 55 and older in Yemen are almost twice as likely as women between 45 and 54 years of age (59% and 31% respectively) to report that they feel completely free to leave the house without permission.
  • Women in Yemen who work for pay are more likely than women who do not work to report feeling free to leave the house without permission. Almost half of women who work for pay said they feel completely or somewhat free to leave the house (49%) compared with one-third of women who do not work for pay who say that they feel completely or somewhat free to leave the house without permission (35%).
  • Roughly the inverse appears among women who say they are completely restricted: half who do not work (48%) compared with roughly one-third of women who are employed (32%).
  • Interestingly, whether a woman lives in an urban or rural area or a certain region of Yemen does not seem to affect significantly whether she will report feeling freedom to leave the house without permission.

Survey respondents in Yemen were asked about experiences of women in public spaces (local markets, walking down the street, etc.). Specifically, women under 50 years old were asked whether men made “unwanted/sexually suggestive noises, comments or gestures.” Figure 3 shows that, when in public areas and places of work, just over half of all women under age 50 say they do not hear of women experiencing men making unwanted/sexually comments or gestures toward them.

  • At the same time, such harassment is perceived as prevalent for Yemeni women, particularly those not living in rural areas or small villages. Three-fourths of respondents in urban areas (75%) and over two-thirds in small towns or large villages (68%) have heard that women experience harassment in public or at work.
  • The percentage of women under 50 years old that report having heard of harassment in rural areas and small villages is much smaller (28%) than in more densely populated zones; nevertheless, the percentage is significant, at nearly a third reporting having heard women suffer such obstacles.
  • The Southern region (Aden, Al-Dhale, Abyan, Lahj) and Western (Al-Hodeidah, Hajjah, Al-Mahweet, and Raimah) has the widest range between percentages of those who report harassment and those who do not, with three-fourths of respondents saying they hear of harassment against women at work or in public places (75%) and one-fourth saying they do not (25%).
  • The Eastern region (Mareb, Shabwah, Albaida, Hadramout, Almaharah) reports almost the inverse of the experiences of women in the Southern region: 25% say they hear of harassment and 63% say they do not.
  • Meanwhile, the Northern (Sana'a Governorate, Amran, Dhamar, Al-Jawf, Sa'dah) and Western (Al-Hodeidah, Hajjah, Al-Mahweet, and Raimah) regions are roughly similar in the percentages that report harassment of women: 28% and 31% respectively, in comparison to 71% and 66% respectively in those regions who say that they do not hear about harassment in public places and at work (Figure 3).

Yemeni women under 50 were asked about whether their friends and relatives are verbally harassed by men when in the street, the market, at work, or in transit. Slightly more women report that they have not heard their friends or relatives speak about harassment – over half (58%) of Yemeni women. Figure 4 demonstrates that education, working for pay and size of place greatly impact whether women’s friends and relatives talk about being harassed by men.

  • Women with more education are far more likely than women with no education to have friends who speak to them about experiencing harassment. More than three-quarters of women (76%) with no education state that the women they know are not harassed in the street, while inversely, almost three-quarters (72%) of women with a secondary education or higher report that their friends or relatives are harassed by men.
  • Similarly, there is an inverse relationship between size of place and women’s friend’s harassment. Women in denser, urban areas are more likely than women in small towns or rural areas to state that their friends or relatives are harassed in the street. Almost three-quarters of urban women report that their friends or relatives experience harassment, while only 26% of rural women report the same.
  • Compared to other factors, marital status seems to make less of a difference in reports of harassment. While slightly over half (53%) of single women state that other women they know experience harassment, fewer married and formerly married women report that their friends and relatives are harassed (36% and 38% respectively).

Figure 5 shows the relative percentages among women under age 50 who report experiencing harassment in public. Although the majority (63%) of all women in those age categories report never receiving unwelcome comments or gestures from men in public, 14% of women say they always or most times experience this limitation. An additional 22% say they face harassment on occasion if rarely.

Of women under 50 who work or study, only a little less than half (49%) report never experiencing harassment while attending work or school. Figure 6 indicates that women are more likely to experience harassment in the workplace or at school than women in public places. Sixteen percent of women experience harassment most days or every day. Over a third of women (34%) report being harassed only once in a while or rarely.