Throughout history Southern Yemeni women left their mark as great symbols, heroes, and role models in the struggle for women empowerment and in cultivating a culture of peace and prosperity. However, during the current civil war in Yemen, they found themselves not only dealing with the hardship of war; many had to carry arms to defend their homes and homeland.
When the Iran-backed Houthi militias and late Yemen President Saleh loyalists invaded South Yemen in 2015, women did not go into shelters and waited their fates, they went out and faced what their male counterparts were facing. They helped defend the land by various means and provided assistance to fighters at the frontlines. Several women were killed during direct combat with the Houthis.
During the Houthi siege of Aden, women were at the forefront of breaking the siege. Some carried arms and joined their male relatives at the fronts, while others provided support such as treating the injured fighters and moving supplies from/to the fronts. Southern women are never afraid to put their lives on the line to make sure they and their society are free, thus their biggest battle currently is for the independence of South Yemen.
South Yemen merged with North Yemen in 1990, which many southerners, especially women now see as a historic mistake. After uniting with North Yemen, women lost all their rights and freedoms they had gained when South Yemen (South Arabia) was a British Colony, and then under the communist People’s Democratic Republic of South Yemen. Southern women were an equal member of society, with equal education rights and equal opportunities. They had family laws in which forced and child marriages were criminalized, and their parental rights were protected during a divorce.
They served in the armed forces and were pioneers in social change and politics in the Arabian Peninsula. The first female deputy minister in the Arabian Peninsula, first female civilian pilot, first female skydiver, first female judge, first female television news anchor were all women from South Yemen. All that changed after the civil war of 1994, when North Yemen implemented Yemen Unity by force and transferred the conservative laws of North Yemen to South Yemen.
After most of the South was liberated in 2015 from the Houthis and the North Yemeni army that has been occupying the South since the Yemen civil war of 1994, Southern women played a huge role in stabilizing the foundations of security, stability, and peace.
While everyone in South Yemen was beginning to focus on rebuilding and reviving their cities and villages from the devastation of war, the Houthi militia are once again attacking southern Yemen territory, forcing southern men and women to head to the frontlines to defend their land.
Last week the Houthi militia fired a ballistic missile into a village in Al-Dhale province, South Yemen. The local leaders called on all men able to carry a weapon to head to the frontline to stop the Houthis from advancing into southern territory. Women also heeded the call.
Yemeni social media has been a buzz recently with photos of Dr. Zainab Al-Qaisi. She’s well known and well respected in South Yemen. In 2015, Dr. Al-Qaisi provided medical treatment and first aid to Southern Resistance fighters battling the Houthis, as well as engage in combat. We see her once again at the Al-Dhale front, armed with her medical kit and AK47.