Yemeni Women’s Passport Dilemma: A Curtailed Right

Published January 23rd, 2022 - 08:51 GMT
Yemeni Women’s Passport Dilemma: A Curtailed Right
33% of the women do not even have a passport

By Anwar Duhaq 


“All citizens have equal rights and duties.” This is what Article 41 of the Yemeni constitution stipulates. This text is common in all Arab constitutions, however; it does not reflect the reality on the ground. Of all Arab countries, Yemen ranks last in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap index for 2021. This gap is clearly observed in education, work and participation in the public sphere and even in the woman’s ability to apply for and obtain an official document like a passport!

Millions of Yemeni women inside Yemen and abroad have to get their guardian’s approval to get issued with a passport. The story of Shaza and other Yemeni women are only a few examples of this reality.

“How do I know you will not flee?” 

This remark is engraved in the memory of Shaza who currently lives in the Netherlands. It’s exactly this remark that made her apply for asylum in the Netherlands after she decided never to return to her homeland where a “patriarchal authority” prevails, as she puts it.

Shaza spent months applying to universities abroad to pursue a doctorate degree and she was eventually selected for a full scholarship. However, when she went to the Immigration and Passport Authority in December 2019 to issue a passport, she was surprised that women must get the “approval of their guardian” and that the guardian must accompany the woman to apply for a passport.

The official’s request perplexed her as her father has been bedridden at hospital for three years after he was injured in the airstrikes that targeted a funeral in Al-Kubra Hall in Sana’a and killed at least 135 people. Her male brothers all live abroad. Shaza explained her situation to the official and told him how important it is to get a passport in order not to lose the scholarship. He then asked her: “How do I know you will not flee?”, and he insisted that her guardian accompany her to the passport office; otherwise, the passport application will not be processed.

“Despite my age and my educational level, I am being accused of wanting to flee just because I want to get a passport. Can you imagine this? It’s my right (to get a passport). I have to get my guardian to approve my request for a passport even if I am 60 years old! It was a very difficult day,” Shaza said.

The situation in Sana’a, which is under the control of Ansar Allah (known as AL Houthi), and Aden, where the Yemeni government is based, is the same. Shaza considered going to the Immigration and Passport Authority in Aden, however, a friend of hers in Aden told her that she faced the same problem as she was told that she must either be accompanied by her guardian or she must submit an official authorization from her guardian that’s certified by the court.

At the end, Shaza went with her father, despite his health condition, to the passport issuing authority and managed to get her passport.

“These were five months of suffering, and it’s only because I am a female.”

Getting a passport issued usually takes a few days, however, Sahar, whose real identity is concealed at her request, spent five months trying to get one.

Sahar went to the Passport Authority to get a passport after she graduated from university because she wanted to apply for a scholarship abroad to resume her studies. She was surprised by the amount of identity verification documents required.

“This is the case only because I am a woman. A man finishes the entire procedure and gets a passport within a day or two. However, because I am a woman, it takes weeks and maybe even months to get a passport. They told me that I must be accompanied by my guardian so I told them my father was dead and I have no male brothers and that my grandfather is also dead and that I only have one (paternal) uncle abroad. So they asked me to get an authorization from my uncle in which he grants my mother the permission to support my passport application.”

Yemeni women abroad

Requesting women to be accompanied by their guardian when they apply for a passport is not limited to Yemen as this practice has been common in Yemeni embassies as well.

Hadeel Al-Ashwal, a Yemeni woman who lives in Canada, was still married when she submitted a request to get a passport.

She was asked to fill in data about her husband. “I filled the data and sent it, but I had a bad feeling about this.” Al-Ashwal noted that this is not a condition for married men as men are not expected to fill in data about their wives. “Such (measures) show that women cannot sponsor themselves.”

Sarah Al-Uraiqi, who lives in Turkey, also voiced her frustration at this situation. 

“I did not know about this condition and it really shocked me and made me inquire further to confirm that this is in fact a condition and it’s not just a way to obstruct (women from getting a passport). As a matter of fact, I never thought there would be such conditions that (belittle) me as a woman and as a mother.”

Not having a valid passport is not only an obstacle to those requesting asylum where they reside but it’s also a serious problem to Yemeni females studying abroad as they can neither travel nor receive financial transactions.

When Maram, a Yemeni student on a scholarship in Turkey, went to the Yemeni embassy in Ankara, employees requested documents that were not registered at the Civil Status Law department: a marriage contract or a divorce document.

Since Maram was never married, she was asked to bring a copy of her parents’ marriage contract. Maram’s parents have been separated for a long time and there is no official document to prove that. Maram thus felt she had reached a dead end.

Her mother contacted the Yemeni consulate in Saudi Arabia to explain the situation and said she was responsible for her daughter and it’s not possible to get the approval of a male guardian. Maram eventually got the approval; however, she had to wait for around four months before getting her passport issued.

Zeinab who is resuming her studies abroad shares a similar story. She knew in advance that she needed to be accompanied by a guardian so she went with her brother to the Passport Authority. However, an employee turned down her request because her brother was younger than her and he may help her “flee.”

On March 8, 2021, the author contacted the Yemeni Embassy in Germany – which issues passports for Yemeni residents in Germany and some neighboring countries, like Sweden, Czech Republic and Denmark - via e-mail using a fake name, Sarah Saeed, and inquired about what can be done to issue a passport to a Yemeni woman whose husband refuses to grant his approval.

Few days later, the embassy responded saying: “Greetings, please check what’s required on the consulate’s page. The guardian must fill the relevant data in the form and attach a copy of his passport and his residency. If the guardian does not have a valid passport, a copy of the residency will suffice.”

The author of this investigative report then contacted the Yemeni Embassy in Madrid and made the same inquiry. The embassy’s response was different as it said that “Sarah” can submit a copy of her husband’s passport and that an accommodation will be arranged “within law.”

According to the results of an unscientific survey carried out by the author of this report that included 132 women in Yemen and abroad, more than one third of those surveyed voiced their rejection of the condition which pertains to the guardian’s approval to get a passport. The survey also showed that one third of those surveyed do not even have a passport.

33% of the women do not even have a passport

No legal cover

In an interview with Khaled Kamel, a lawyer, the author inquired whether the guardian’s approval is clearly stipulated in a Yemeni law. Kamel said this condition is not enshrined in a law, adding that based on Article 6 of Law no. (7) of 1990 the law “permits issuing ordinary passports and travel documents to whoever has attained the age of sixteen years and has Yemeni nationality.”

He noted, however, that the “personal status law and the texts of Islamic legislations frankly state that it’s important for a woman to get the approval of her husband if she wants to travel.”

“This is the husband’s right as long as it’s within what’s legitimate and as long as the husband does not arbitrarily invoke this right. Article 3 of the constitution stipulates that Islamic sharia is the source of all legislation and Article 31 of the constitution stipulates that women are the sisters of men and they have rights and duties, which are guaranteed and assigned by sharia and stipulated by law.”

Lawyer Wadad Ahmad emphasized that the Yemeni constitution does not clearly differentiate between men and women. “(It’s actually) the contrary as it confirmed equality between them. The problem lies in laws such as the penal code and the personal status law.”

Asked about this condition imposed by the Immigration and Passport Authority and Yemeni consulates abroad and that necessitates the guardian’s or husband’s approval for a woman to get a passport, Ahmad said this condition violates the constitution and it’s not in line with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which Yemen has ratified. 

“Implicit” equality and overt discrimination

The author of this report communicated with the Immigration and Passport Authority in Marib to ask about this legal violation that pertains to requesting women to attain the guardian’s approval to get a passport even though there is neither a legislation nor a law which clearly stipulates this.

However, the director of the Authority declined to be interviewed or to comment about the results of this investigative report. The author also sent an e-mail to the Yemeni Embassy in Frankfurt raising this issue of the guardian’s authorization for women, but did not receive any reply by the date of publication of this report. 

This investigation was conducted with the support of Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism Network (ARIJ).

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Al Bawaba News.

You may also like


Sign up to our newsletter for exclusive updates and enhanced content