Houthis crack down on women shopping without male chaperones


An all-women Houthi moral police force has removed dozens of women from the streets of the northern city of Saada in Yemen for shopping without a male guardian, also known as a mahram, residents and local media reports said.

Saada is considered the Houthi movement’s heartland, where they have banned women from shopping without a mahram, asking women to stick to the Islamic dress codes and only allowing women to shop in limited places in the city.

To enforce the ban, residents told Arab News, dozens of all-female morality police officers were seen roaming Saada during Ramadan, when streets are teeming with shoppers, searching for violators.

Al-Masdar Online, a Yemeni news site, reported that the Houthis broadcast the ban through loudspeakers fixed on cars that circulated the streets, asking women not to go out with mahram and naming markets where women could shop for Ramadan and Eid.

Houthi police briefly detained dozens of unescorted women, later releasing them after they had signed a written pledge.

The ban on women walking about without a mahram comes as the Yemeni militia intensifies its morality campaigns in areas under its control.

The Houthis have arrested dozens of women for violating Islamic dress codes, banned singing at weddings and arrested singers and artists who challenged the ban.

Since earlier last year, the Houthis have been holding Entesar Al-Hammadi, a Yemeni actress and model, after removing her from a street in Sanaa for allegedly “trading in drugs and … prostitution.”

The latest report by the UN Panel of Experts accused the Houthis of sexually assaulting women, subjecting them to different forms of physical and psychological torture and denying them birth control.

“The Houthis simply want women to be annexed to men and to serve as baby-making machines to produce fighters,” Nadwa Al-Dawsari, a Yemeni conflict analyst, told Arab News.

Ali Al-Fakih, editor of Al-Masdar Online, said the Houthis have turned Saada into a testing site for their harsh rules, as they see the city as completely loyal to them. “They consider Saada as a pure place for their doctrine and followers. Thus, they can implement any decision easily,” Al-Fakih said.

Unlike other Yemeni areas under their control, the Houthis have turned Saada into the most secretive place in Yemen, where even visitors to the city must inform the militia at checkpoints about their reasons for visiting and how long they would be staying there.

“People cannot breathe in Saada. I think we will later see the Houthi ban on women from going about without a mahram imposed in other areas,” Al-Fakih said. (Source: Arab News)