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Yemeni women: Armed and dangerous

A Yemeni woman fighter [The New Arab]

Date of publication: 21 December, 2015

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Yemeni women are joining Popular Resistance militias in their droves, and have proven capable fighters against their Houthi opponents in Taiz province.
Months of fighting in Yemen has led to a growing number of women join the ranks of pro-government forces to fight the Houthi rebel militias.

Taiz, a pro-government city, has been under a rebel siege for months, leading to dreadful conditions for civilians living there.

The situation has led to pro-government Popular Resistance forces to recruiting women fighters in their fight against the Houthis, and they now take on several security roles and military tasks.

Despite Yemen being a conservative society, a number of Yemeni women are involved in day-to-day battles alongside men.

In the past few months, dozens of women in Taiz have undergone intensive training, which have enabled them to participate in security raids, inspections, and the occasional gun battle.

Dunia al-Museibi

Dunia Qasim al-Museibi is aged 27, and joined the Popular Resistance militia in Taiz recently. She said she wanted to help men confront the Houthi rebels that have besieged the city since March.

This is nothing new, she said. Women have been involved in Yemen's peaceful protests and activist work for years, Museibi told The New Arab.

"When the war started, [my] role declined and became restricted to simple jobs that would support [fighting] men," she said. 

Her role then developed into being a fighter with her male comrades.

Museibi said that she had, along with some other women friends, asked resistance leaders to train them and allow them to carry weapons to help with the liberation of Taiz Province.
   
    A Yemeni woman holds a weapon in the port city of Aden's Dar Saad suburb,
on April 22, 2015 [AFP]

Women are given police jobs and can search gunmen who "enter or escape towns disguised in women's clothes".

Men do not search them and "do not raid homes where women are present, so we are given these tasks", she said.

The Houthis also involve women in security and smuggling weapons.

Um Abdullah

Married Yemeni women have also joined the pro-government security forces.

Um Abdullah al-Qudsi, a Yemeni mother, defended women's participation in fighting and said that Islam does not prevent women from going to war.

"We live in a tribal culture that rejects the participation of women in politics, or to give her the simplest of rights, but things are different in Taiz," Um Abdullah added.

"Women were heavily involved in the peaceful youth revolution for change, and they are now participating in operations to liberate the city from the militias."

Um Abdullah lost several relatives when their homes were shelled by rebel artillery. She said that she hopes to be recruited and trained to help her "brothers in the resistance  drive the Houthis out of Taiz."
I would leave the children with my mom... What is important is for me to carry out my duty of defending Taiz

- Um Abdullah

Um Abdullah held the Houthi militias and deposed President Ali Abdullah Saleh responsible for forcing women to take up arms.

She also maintained that fighting or police work would not affect her household duties or the raising of her children.

"I would leave the children with my mum to take care of them. What is important is for me to carry out my duty of defending Taiz."

Better skilled than men

The commander and trainer of the unit that includes female volunteers, Muaz al-Yasseri, said that 150 women repeatedly asked the commander of the Popular Resistance in Taiz, Sheikh Hamoud al-Mekhlafi, to integrate women into the ranks of militias and conventional army units.

Yasseri said that women rights' activists also volunteered to fight - even as human shields - and their enthusiasm led the local military leader to finally accept their requests.

The first batch of women were trained for two months on how to use small arms, Yasseri said. During the training, he was surprised to find out that women showed greater skill in handling their weapons than men.

Yasseri's unit stormed a house, which sheltered snipers who used women as human shields. He said that some of the women in his unit were wounded in the operation.

Most of the trained women fighters are given positions in the police force and criminal investigation departments, he added.

Yasseri criticised some media reports that have described the women trainees as extremists.

This is a smear campaign against the "resistance" he said. The Houthis have also used women to kidnap or raid the homes of their opponents, he added.

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