UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Engendering unification : family law and women's legal subjectivity in Southern Yemen Baobeid, Iman


This thesis examines the shifts in Family Law and the production of ‘women’ as legal subjects in the context of the unification of North and South Yemen in the 1990s. Two legal codes form the core of this research, the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen’s (PDRY, ‘South Yemen’) pre-unification Family Law of 1974, and the unified Republic of Yemen’s (ROY) Personal Status Law of 1992. The shift from the PDRY Family Law to the ROY Personal Status Law redefined women’s place in the family and Yemeni society writ large through the deployment of Family Law as a key mechanism for social intervention in order to produce and regulate legible legal subjects. This study interrogates the production of women as legal subjects through analysis of the institutions of marriage and divorce, viewing them as mechanisms to delineate boundaries of action that define the Yemeni woman’s place and role in the nation-state. In the PDRY’s case, this was undertaken through the construction of the woman as a “mother” and “worker” that is assigned reproductive and productive duties, and the establishment of the nuclear family as a self-contained entity that operates as the “cornerstone” of society. Determinations of the woman’s ‘place’ in the PDRY nation-state revolved around discourses of modernity and secularism that nevertheless utilized the Islamic legal tradition in reformative and innovative ways that claimed to foreground gender equality while maintaining patriarchal power relations. I argue that this locked women into an altered state of gender inequity that was marked by a post-colonial and Marxist driven nationalism. On the other hand, the Personal Status Law of the unified ROY, which rooted itself in Shari’a and the Islamic legal tradition, defined and restricted the ‘woman’ as a legal subject through the institution of guardianship and the discourse of al’eshra al-ḥesna (good companionship) that established a marital relationship and familial structure that was inherently inequitable. Thus, “the woman” as subject becomes a critical symbol onto which the two nation-states cast visions of themselves, and the manner through which they laid claim to the Islamic legal tradition.

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