Yemen speeds up coronavirus awareness drive as vital aid arrives

A Yemeni worker sprays a disinfecting liquid into a minivan in a street of the capital Sanaa, to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, on March 21, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 21 March 2020

Yemen speeds up coronavirus awareness drive as vital aid arrives

  • Yemen has stopped flights in and out the country, shut down land crossings and intensified screening measures at seaports that are still open for shipments
  • On Saturday, the committee extended the date for school closures to March 29

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s government has asked governors to join hands with local NGOs, charities and medical colleges and institutes to spread awareness about coronavirus as vital aid began trickling into the country, Yemen’s deputy prime minister said on Saturday.
Salem Al-Khanbashi, who is also the head of government-led emergency committee dealing with the pandemic, said that his government has authorized governors of the Yemeni provinces to take measures to boost people’s awareness about the virus as his government distributes health supplies to health facilities in the provinces liberated from the Iranian-backed Houthi militia.
“They (governors) can also take further decisions such as banning large gatherings. But since the country has not recorded any (coronavirus) cases, we focus our efforts on awareness and preparing health centers,” Al-Khanbashi said.
On Saturday, the committee extended the date for school closures to March 29, but did not approve taking more aggressive measures such as imposing curfews in cities.
Yemen has already stopped flights in and out the country, shut down land crossings and intensified screening measures at seaports that are still open for shipments. Al-Khanbashi said that the country has received vital aid from the World Health Organization (WHO) including medical equipment, test kits, hazmat suits, masks and gloves.
The Yemeni government has also reiterated its commitment to transfer salaries of health workers in the Houthi-controlled northern Yemen, but not before receiving guarantees from the international community and the UN envoy to Yemen that the Houthis would not confiscate the money.
“Why would we transfer salaries to Sanaa if the Houthis are going to confiscate them?” Al-Khanbashi asked.
Condemnation
Yemen’s government has urged the UN, rights organizations and the international community to pressure Houthis to allow thousands of stranded travelers to return to homes inside the rebel-controlled areas in northern Yemen, saying that Houthi quarantines in Baydha and Dhalae are breeding grounds for diseases. “For those under the Houthi quarantine, Houthis did not provide any masks, gloves or sanitizers; and they kept them cramped together with a severe shortage of both food and water,” the Yemen embassy to the US said on Twitter.
At the same time, the UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths has urged the internationally recognized Yemeni government and the Houthis to accelerate the prisoner swap process before the spread of the disease in Yemen.
“Risks posed by COVID-19 make even more urgent the need to release all conflict-related prisoners, as per the parties’ obligations under the Prisoner Exchange Agreement. The parties must take all measures to expedite these releases and allow people to return home safely,” Griffiths said on Twitter on Friday.
In Aden, the government said in a statement on Saturday that it is committed to the UN call for the immediate and complete release of prisoners.


Egypt mulls law to protect women’s identities as MeToo movement escalates

Updated 10 August 2020

Egypt mulls law to protect women’s identities as MeToo movement escalates

  • Move comes as hundreds of women have started to speak up on social media about sexual assault in Egypt
  • A 2017 poll found Cairo to be the most dangerous megacity for women

CAIRO: Egyptian lawmakers are pushing for a new law to protect the identity of women coming forward to report sexual abuse and assault as the nation’s MeToo movement picks up speed.
An Egyptian parliamentarian committee has approved a draft law that would give survivors of sexual assault and harassment the automatic right to anonymity, with the law expected to go to vote at a general session of the parliament later this month.
The move comes as hundreds of women have started to speak up on social media about sexual assault in Egypt, with the public prosecution and National Council for Women supporting the movement and offering legal and social protection.
Spurred on by the growing MeToo movement, data entry specialist Bassant Abdel Wahab, 22, went public recently about being sexually abused by a human rights activist when she was 17 and reported him to the civil society group where he works.
The man has now been suspended from his job while his organization investigates Abdel Wahab’s complaint along with those of other female colleagues who accused him of assault.
“Sexual assault incidents that have been hidden for years are continuing to surface and in a raging way,” Wahab said.
“It is like a tsunami that could change attitudes and laws on sexual assault against women.”
The frequency of such cases being reported in the conservative Muslim country began to rise after the 2011 revolution as reports of sexual assaults, harassment and rape in Cairo’s Tahrir Square made local and international headlines.
But this year there has been a spike in reporting about cases of sexual assault since early July when an Instagram page revealed the case of a university student who is accused of sexually assaulting and blackmailing multiple women.
Within five days of the case being disclosed, the National Council for Women said that it had received 400 complaints mainly about violence against women.
Lawmaker Magda Nasr said the new law to allow anonymity of sexual abuse survivors will be a game changer for women in Egypt as it will give greater protection to report such cases.
“There is an apparent political will to protect women rights and attempt to reduce as much as possible violence against women,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Nasr said the latest wave of complaints came after an Instagram page in July accused a university student of sexually assaulting and blackmailing multiple women. The student was arrested and the case is being investigated by the authorities.
The same Instagram account also exposed a gang rape said to involve six men from wealthy and powerful families that prosecutors are now investigating.
Since then Egyptian actresses have spoken up against how they were subjected to sexual assault.
One actress, Rania Youssef — who faced charges in 2018 that were later dropped after wearing a see-through outfit to the film festival — published photos of those responsible on social media.
In other cases, two other human rights activists were accused of sexual assault against female employees and a Coptic priest was defrocked on sexual assault allegations.
“It is a moment where women can have more gains in their fight against sexual abuse,” said lawyer Entessar El-Saeed, executive director of Cairo Foundation for Development and Law.
El-Saeed said several non-governmental organizations and parliamentarians were also pushing for a unified law on violence against women that would provide greater protection for women and girls from sexual assault and blackmail.
The bill toughens penalties against sexual abuse in all forms, criminalizes rape within marriage, and includes better reporting mechanisms, confidentiality guarantees, and protection for witnesses and survivors.
“The bill has been in the parliament for two years and it is now the perfect time to approve it,” said El-Saeed, who is the head of one of seven NGOs that drafted the bill.
A 2017 Thomson Reuters Foundation poll found Cairo to be the most dangerous megacity for women, and 99 percent of women in Egypt interviewed by the United Nations in 2013 reported sexual harassment.
An outcry over attacks on women near Tahrir Square during President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s inauguration celebrations in 2014 prompted a new law punishing sexual harassment with at least six months in jail.
But women rights activists view the law as too weak.
“The penalty needs to be toughened and there needs to be legal mechanisms that make it easier for women to report and get their rights,” El-Saeed said.