Set on Fire: The Femicide of Marwa Albaity

On the morning of November 28th, as I sipped my coffee and scrolled through social media, posts were flooding in about a new brutal case of intimate partner violence in Yemen. It had been the 3rd case I’d heard of that week. This one was that of Marwa Al-Baiti from Hadhramout, she had been set on fire by her husband, Mohammad AlJafri, in front of their kids. Earlier that day when I was reading about it, it was reported that she was still alive and is in the hospital. “She’s still alive,” I thought to myself in a bit of relief, trying to hold on to a string of hope. Later on, I had come to find out that Marwa did not survive the severe burns that covered 80% of her body; she, like the other two cases I had heard of that week, had been murdered by her own husband.

Marwa wasn’t just a case number though. I found out that she was 28 years old, only two years younger than me. And that she was a quiet, introverted person like I am. She was a mom to two lovely children, aged 7 and 9 years old. Marwa wasn’t happy in her marriage, but she would not listen to her friends when they warned her. She claimed that this is how all marriages are, and if she is too picky like them then she will end up being a spinster like they are. Marwa had no idea that her unhappy marriage would one day take her life.

As told by her family, Marwa and her husband had a fight that escalated to the point that he poured gasoline all over her body then set her on fire right in front of their pleading children. He had no sympathy and did not listen to her cries and screams, he let her suffer for 10 hours before the neighbors interfered and took her to the hospital. He is now in custody but everyone is in doubt as to whether or not he will pay for this crime.

The story of Marwa is shocking, but not uncommon

If you follow the history of intimate partner violence cases in Yemen, especially those that involve femicides, you will feel that you are watching a real life episode of How to Get Away With Murder. That’s because almost all men get away with murdering women in Yemen. Just last May, there was another femicide which was very similar to Marwa’s. Najiba was tortured by her husband before she was set on fire, which led to her death. Her husband was let go and never prosecuted for her death, nor for the torture which he inflicted on her.

In Yemen, husbands are rarely prosecuted for any crimes they commit against their wives. In fact, the Yemeni law gives husbands complete control over their wives, as wives must be in complete obedience to their husbands. Article 40 of Yemen’s Personal Status mandates a wife’s obedience to her husband, including by restricting her movements outside the marital home and by requiring her to have sexual intercourse with him. 

In Yemen, husbands are rarely prosecuted for any crimes they commit against their wives.

It is the same for fathers, brothers, and other male relatives who commit crimes against their female relatives, especially if it is “an honor” related crime. The Yemeni law (as well as a few other countries in the area) has a lesser punishment of only one year in jail, or no punishment at all, if any man commits “an honor killing.” Of course, the same does not apply if a woman killed a man for the same reasons.

Lack of protection and law

Before we can tackle intimate partner violence in our communities, we need to tackle two very important issues. First, women in Yemen and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa must be recognized by the constitution as fully independent citizens. They should not have a male guardian nor obey anyone by law. Secondly, we need to stop allowing these murders to be justified, neither in the name of “honor” nor any other nonsense. We must call it what it really is: women being killed for being women (femicide).

Yemen is lacking much needed protection laws, services, and resources for women and anyone experiencing gender based violence. Not only are the assaulters and murderers literally getting away with murder, the survivors also often find no support from the community and even their families. They are sometimes blamed or shamed, causing them to suffer in silence. We need a complete systemic reform to change laws and then also provide services and centres for survivors. In order to get to this, we need to speak up!

Silence allows violence

An unfortunate fact that needs to be addressed is the silence of the community. When we all keep silent to the brutal and inhumane gender based crimes that happen around us, this sadly contributes further to the continuation of the cycle of violence. 

We live in a world where, according to the United Nations, 4 in 10 women of homicide victims worldwide are killed by an intimate partner. These are only the numbers we know about. In a country like Yemen where no data and numbers are documented, no support, safety or protection measures are offered to victims, it’s hard to say how bad the situation is. 

Marwa’s story must be a wake up call for all of us, in Yemen and everywhere.

Throughout the years, there were a lot of stories about gender based violence that came out to the media. Some people got angry, there might have been small protests here and there, and then… it always ends with silence. Some stories come and go, so we start becoming numb to them. We’ve heard the same stories over and over and over again. Husband gets angry, beats wife to death, and then he is found to be innocent and goes on to live his life. And this is why we stay silent, we think that there is no use to speak up. But we must! If we don’t speak up, nothing will change! Women will get murdered, and the cycle will continue. 

Marwa’s story has caught a lot of attention and shocked a lot of people due to its brutality. There was a lot of action on social media as well as protests in Hadhramout. I hope this will not be followed by silence as the ones before it. Marwa’s story must be a wake up call for all of us, in Yemen and everywhere. We have to protest on social media and on the streets, to send a loud and clear message that murdering women will not be brushed off under the carpet anymore. Our voices must be heard and they can make a difference!