Yemen is one of those republics that following the Arab uprisings of 2011 ended up in a bloody civil war that foreign powers, near and distant, have abused for their own purposes. Still, the decline of citizenship rights and a functioning state apparatus bear a longer durée. The Yemeni state was parsed together by two sovereign states in 1990. With the increasingly autocratic rule of President Ali Abdullah Salih, the happy unity ended in the first civil war in 1994. Since then, southerners have accused the northern state to take over and crush what used to be the rights, resources, and good practices of pre-1990 South Yemen. The post-1990 unification Yemen reveals various shades of accumulated forms of denizenship reflected in contracted and contained female agency in relation to male kin, as well as abrogated forms of belonging to the precarious Yemeni state in a region marked by the Saudi-Iran conflict, presence of Jihadist insurgency and the US War on Terror.
This development, I suggest, can be best observed by focusing on women’s legal rights as a declining state-citizenship relationship. I argue that the ups and downs experienced in women’s rights give a more nuanced analysis on how the state-citizenship relations have developed during the past decades than what a standard state-elite focus. This is not simply because “women matter” but since, in hindsight, the women’s movement in Yemen has based its agency on a very accurate analysis on the stakes in Yemeni politics. Thus, it has been able to use the available political alliances to deter further deterioration of civil rights and, occasionally, also gain small victories to women’s legal rights. My paper is based on ethnographic fieldwork in southern Yemen since the 1980s, and on document and media sources.