Minimum Marriage Age Legislation in Yemen, 2008–2014: Exploring Some Limits to Portability of the ACF

  • Rasha Jarhum
  • Robert Hoppe


Examining the portability of the Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF) for understanding public policymaking in incomplete states characterized by competitive autocracy and deep poverty, this paper tells the story of struggles around setting rules for a minimum age for (womens’) marriage in Yemen. It shows how the ‘unification’ of North and South Yemen entailed a legal harmonization process that rolled back South’s women emancipation policies that stipulated a woman’s consent to marry and prohibited early marriage (≥18 years), and reintroduced Islamist policies, defending informal patriarchal family traditions that enabled child marriages (≤15 years) under male guardianship. Yet, surprisingly, the Yemenite variety of the Arab Uprisings of 2011 led to an externally brokered two-year transition period (March, 2013–January, 2014) in which a ‘national dialogue’ opened new venues and a window of opportunity for women civil society organizations to influence decision-making on a new constitution. The ‘devil shift’, unproductive debate between the pro- and anti-early marriage advocacy coalitions was, for a brief period, de-escalated and reframed in a new, piously modern Islamic ‘post-Islamist’ discourse expressive of both Islamic and womens’ rights positions; and appeared to result in a shared, enlightened, yet Shariah-compatible stance for a flexible 18-year minimum age standard. The opportunity to anchor this compromise in the new constitution was lost, however, when Yemen politics spiralled (back) increasingly into civil and proxy warfare. This history of failed policy change clarifies the possibilities, but also some serious limitations of the ACF as implicitly based on a western, liberal-democratic assumption of ‘politics as struggle over policy between adversaries’, instead of ‘politics as struggle of power and identities between enemies’.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rasha Jarhum
    • 1
  • Robert Hoppe
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Peace Track Initiative, The Human Rights Research and Education CenterOttawa UniversityOttawaCanada
  2. 2.Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International RelationsAmerican University of BeirutBeirutLebanon
  3. 3.Faculty of Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences (BMS), Department of Science, Technology and Policy Studies (STePS)University of TwenteEnschedeThe Netherlands

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