More than abusing women, the Houthis are weaponizing the women they conquer
In past decades, Yemeni women were treated with honor and respect by society, which gave them a special status and criminalized all forms of aggression against them. This made their use in acts of violence, including wars and political conflicts, a mark of shame under Yemen’s norms.
This was the case until the coup by the Iranian-backed Houthis in 2014. At that point, all Yemeni values, customs, norms and traditions were disregarded, causing the displacement of more than 2 million women and resulting in all forms of crimes and violations against women in areas controlled by Houthis.
A number of human rights organizations have documented these crimes. The most significant is the report of the Yemeni Organization to Combat Human Trafficking, which revealed that Houthis had turned villas and houses in the capital Sanaa into brutal prisons for Yemeni women.
The number of women abducted and forcibly disappeared has reached more than 160. These women have been subjected to brutal torture and tragic conditions as a result of physical and sexual assaults. Many have suffered injuries and physical disabilities. Some have suffered psychologically and have attempted suicide.
In addition, the Yemeni Coalition to Monitor Human Rights Violations (Rasd Coalition) said in its recent report that it documented 455 cases of torture committed by the Houthi militia against Yemeni women from September 2014 to December 2018, adding that 170 females died from this torture, including nine children and six elderly people.
The Netherlands-based Human Rights Radar announced in a recent report that it had monitored the abduction of more than 35 girls and female students from the streets of Sanaa. In some cases, it accused militia leaders of involving narcotics in the abductions order to pressure the victims’ families. Sources talk about dozens of abductions that parents did not report out of fear of stigma and scandal.
The crimes perpetrated by armed Houthis against Yemeni women have been limitless. The Iranian-backed militia recently carried out a systematic campaign of using schools to attract and recruit girls, with the aim of enrolling them in armed formations (“Zinabiyat”) and using them in hostilities.
The Houthis have used their Zinabiyat elements – terrorist formations designated for the oppression of women – in cooperation with a number of principals and deputy principals. They ordered the educators to carry out field tours aimed at attracting girls by exploiting the poverty of their families amid promises of cash payments and food aid. The girls were taken to special centers for what are called “cultural courses,” where they were exposed to brainwashing, and then taken for military training in the use of light and medium weapons.
This serious step is part of the Houthis’ endeavors to use women in terrorist operations and espionage missions at women’s gatherings, and to suppress protests.
The program is now aimed at schoolgirls, consequently targeting future generations that will surely fall victim to this extremist, terrorist ideology, a culture of hatred toward the “other” that uses catchy slogans such as “Death to America” and is imported from Iran and ingrained into the minds of tomorrow’s mothers.
Let’s not forget that the region and the world are still paying the bill for the extremist ideology of the Khomeini revolution of 1979.
In the face of these terrorist practices, the world community, the United Nations and international organizations concerned about women’s rights and combating violence against women, as well as all human rights activists and free people everywhere, have a historical and moral responsibility to condemn these criminal practices in areas controlled by the Houthis.
There should be an investigation of private and informal detention facilities, with the immediate release of all female detainees. The perpetrators among the Houthi leaders should be brought to the International Criminal Court as war criminals and perpetrators of crimes against humanity.
There should be safe channels, such as hotlines, to report abductions. The fate of the abductees should be followed up. Victims should be provided with protection, psychological support and rehabilitation programs, and the militia should be pressed to refrain from using women in hostilities and combat.
The continued silence of the international community regarding terrorist practices such as killings, bombings and sniping; efforts aimed at demoralizing the population; house raids, repression and abuse; abductions, detention and forced disappearances; psychological and physical torture; harassment, violence and the sexual exploitation of female detainees; the shaving of female travelers at checkpoints; and the bullying and brainwashing of children, youths and women in Houthi-controlled areas cannot be justified.
The effect of these practices will not stop at the borders of Yemen. It is a time bomb, and everyone will pay a heavy price if it is not addressed. This is what happened with the other terrorist organizations such as al-Qaida and Islamic State, as well as Lebanon’s Hizbullah and the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq.
The recruiting of girls and women by the Houthi militia is a most serious practice. These are sisters, wives and mothers. The effects will not be limited to them, but will extend to the rest of the family and to future generations as well.