The Iran-backed Houthis have implemented gender segregation at Sanaa University’s Mass Communication College as part of a morals campaign in Yemeni regions under the militia’s control.
Male students will now be required to report to the college on Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays, while female students must attend on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, according to a decision circulated by the college’s Houthi-backed students’ union.
Houthi leaders and media outlets have justified the move by claiming that the changes were made to avoid rapes and to uphold Islamic norms that prohibited women from interacting with men.
In a tweet, Houthi leader Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi said: “What the university has done is in accordance with the female students’ desires, as they possess modesty, pride, and elevated Islamic values.”
To convince members of the public about the ruling, the Houthi-run media said that free mixing among male and female students would result in rape and sexual harassment, as well as a decrease in innovation and productivity.
In an article published on Sunday in the Houthi-run Al-Thawra newspaper, one writer said: “Western studies reveal the devastating effects of mixing in universities. Mixing kills ambition, buries creativity, and eliminates student intelligence.”
In recent years, the Houthis have launched a morals campaign in Sanaa and other areas under their control, imprisoning female models and singers, banning music, closing cafes where men and women interact, imposing a dress code on women who leave their homes, and prohibiting co-education.
Yemenis from many walks of life, including Sanaa university students and activists in the city, have opposed the gender segregation decision, and demanded that the Houthis concentrate on enhancing the quality of education and compensating university professors and other public employees.
Dr. Ibrahim Al-Kebsi, a university professor who was kidnapped by the Houthis last year for criticizing the group on social media, said the Houthis prohibited women and men from mixing in educational institutions, while their economic policies had forced many poor women to ask for help in the streets and wait in long lines to obtain cooking gas.
“I call on the Yemeni people, all students in universities, colleges, and institutes, as well as the faculty of all Yemeni universities, to reject this decision and to proclaim the suspension of studies until this authority apologizes to the Yemeni people,” Al-Kebsi added.
Some Yemen observers have warned that the escalating Houthi persecution of women could force them to abandon their workplaces and classrooms.
In a tweet, Yemeni human rights activist Baraa Shiban said: “Soon, many women will disappear from public life in areas under the Houthis control.”
The Houthis have also prohibited women from traveling between Yemeni cities or abroad without a male companion or mahram, and they are still detaining several Yemeni activists and models, including Entisar Al-Hammadi.
Based on the militia’s history of mistreating women, Abdullah Esmail, a Yemeni journalist and researcher, did not rule out the possibility of the Houthis taking more tough measures against women, such as firing them from their jobs and forcing them to remain at home.
He told Arab News that the Houthis had been taken aback by public outrage over the decision.
Esmail said: “The Houthi group is merely replicating the ideology of the mullahs in Tehran which has nothing to do with religion, morality, or ideals. This group portrays itself as a guardian of morality, but it is in violation of morality.”