Families in Yemen shun female prisoners
“I can’t marry a woman who’s been in prison, even if she was unjustly imprisoned. She faced charges, was sent to prison and may have taken on bad habits while inside,” added Al-Amari.
Relatives and family members look down at women with a criminal record, even if they were not proven guilty.
Because of this, lots of female inmates in the Central Prison in Sana’a don’t receive visits from their families, according to Najla Al-Lisani, director of the Legal Department at the Yemeni Women’s Union (YWU).
Some husbands have divorced their spouses because they were sent to prison. Along with the ill-repute surrounding incarcerated women, men who continue to live with a woman who has been sent to prison are stigmatized.
Al-Lisani said that she remembers that a female prisoner, who served an eight-month prison sentence, was divorced by her husband and her family abandoned her.
“And while she was an inmate, no one in her family came to visit her,” said Al-Lisani.
Life after prison
Many imprisoned women in Yemen have no opportunity to go back home after they are released. The only choice for them is to go to special women’s shelters.
“When this woman [mentioned above] got out of prison, she had no place to go to but to Al-Weam House,” Al-Lisani added.
Al-Weam House, which is run by the YWU, was established in 2009 to give shelter to and rehabilitate female offenders whose families abandoned them when they were sent to prison.
“Many female prisoners in the Central Prison were abandoned by their families after getting out of prison,” said Al-Lisani.
“We keep an eye on female inmates, so we can take those who have finished their sentence out of prison and to the shelter house if their families abandon them,” she added.
The security administration of the Central Prison in Sana’a declined to allow the Yemen Times to see the female inmates at the prison.
“The visit may have been rejected because of awful conditions in the prison, which the administration doesn’t want to be publicized in the press,” said Al-Lisani.
Negative attitudes towards former female prisoners
The big challenge for female prisoners is how to integrate with society after getting out of prison, as most of them are considered social outcasts by the people around them.
“I have negative feelings towards women who’ve been in prison, whether they were guilty or not,” said Ameen Al-Darisi, a storekeeper in Sana’a.
Al-Darisi doesn’t accept the idea of marrying a female prisoner. He thinks that no one should be blamed for the prisoner’s problems but the prisoner and her family, because, according to him, the family failed to instill strong moral and religious values among its members.
However, others have a different view regarding female prisoners.
Ahmed Ali, a student in the faculty of Mass Media at Sana’a University says, “We should have mercy on female prisoners because some of them were unjustly imprisoned. Therefore, society has to support them to overcome this situation instead of stigmatizing them.”
Learning vocational skills in prison
Women inmates in the Central Prisons in Aden and Sana’a have the opportunity to attend free vocational training courses.
However, female inmates do not benefit from such courses unless there is psychological support for positive use of time in prison. The family can play this crucial role in encouraging female prisoners to acquire skills while in prison.
For one of the prisoners, who was found guilty of manslaughter, her husband and family continued to visit and support her for three years until she was released, according to Al-Lisani.
The imprisoned woman gained several skills while in prison. “With support from her family, she learned sewing and embroidery, because her family stood by her, and she knew that her husband was eagerly waiting to take her home after getting out of prison,” added Al-Lisani.
But the female prisoners who don’t receive visits and care from their families don’t engage in training and suffer negative psychological consequences, to the degree that they fight with each other in prison, according to Al-Lisani.
The YWU offers free training courses to female prisoners on incense-making, sewing and embroidery.
“We try to rehabilitate them in order to be effective members of society in the future,” added Al-Lisani.
The YWU also stays in communication with women after prison to help them start their own small businesses.
“We help them so that they don’t commit other crimes,” said Al-Lisani.
“Some of them are unjustly imprisoned. Their families and society must accept them as normal people,” Al-Lisani concluded.