By most measures, Amal Al Wafi is like most college students. She wakes each morning at 7, boards the bus and studies hard to earn her administration degree at Taiz University, hoping it will earn her a position as a manager someday.
But since renewed fighting caused her school to close in April, Amal Al Wafi has pursued a decidedly different curriculum: learning how to shoot guns at Houthi fighters to protect her hometown.
“I am [an] educated girl. I have a diploma in secretarial work and a diploma in English. However, I am willing to fight on the frontlines to protect Taiz from the invaders and to tell the world that we will not let the Houthis take over the cultural capital of Yemen,” the 20-year-old tells Newsweek Middle East.
Al Wafi is part of a larger trend of female fighters joining the fight in Yemen as civil war between the northern Yemeni rebels and government forces rages on. In Taiz, all entries to the city are currently under the control of the Houthis, while the popular resistance controls some of the areas inside the city.
The coalition forces and the Popular Resistance also control Bab Al Mandab Strait, Perim Island, and Dhubab district.
The latest reports count a small battalion of 26 women among a resistance force of 36,000 in the city of Taiz, which is about 240 km south of the capital of Sana’a. Women have only recently begun to join the fight in September, after the public school Zaid Al Moshki — a training headquarter — was opened to them.
Their trainer, Captain Moa’ath Al Yaseri, who is a leading figure in the Popular Resistance of Taiz, tells Newsweek Middle East that the first batch graduated in October, and their functions are varied.
“Four of them are working right in the investigative office, while the others will work as snipers and will participate in storming the houses [where] Houthis are hidden inside,” Al Yaseri says.
According to Al Yaseri, the idea of women participating in the resistance surfaced when a small group of women from Saber Mountain in Taiz took up weapons and exiled the Houthis snipers from that area in June. The event also demonstrated the capability of female fighters to act as intelligence gatherers, bringing useful information about the spread of rebels in the city as they can walk freely, while men are subject to arrest.
Female Fighters: Degree Holders and Duty-Bound
Al Wafi is not the only educated woman to trade in her pen for a rifle. Fifteen women from local universities have also taken up arms, including Inas Al Mageedi, 24, a law student who also joined the resistance in September, along with four other friends.
Despite having no prior experience in security, Al Mageedi works in the investigative office of Taiz city and enjoys her job. She says she feels duty-bound to contribute to her city’s cause. “When I saw [that] the Houthis were killing residents in Taiz, I felt that I could not simply sit and watch at home. Now, I feel that I am doing my job by participating with the Resistance.”
Al Wafi says she felt compelled to fight for the same reasons. After hearing about the deaths in her city, she sold pieces of jewelry and bought a rifle with the money, pledging that she would not return to her studies until the rebellion had been quelled.