Yemen comes to depend on its female security forces

Published on 16 January 2014 in Report
Amal Al-Yarisi (author)

Amal Al-Yarisi

Trainees undergo rigorous self-defense training.

Trainees undergo rigorous self-defense training.

Exuding confidence with every step, Fawzia Salem Al-Ahdal enters the headquarters of the Special Security Forces (SSF) in Sana'a each evening after she finishes her work checking female guests of the Movenpick Hotel, where National Dialogue Conference (NDC) has been taking place since last March.

For her current assignment at the hotel, Al-Ahdal has to leave her house each day at 3:30 a.m. The non-commissioned officer (NCO), looks quite smart in her dark-green uniform of trousers, long jacket, cap and hijab, with her gun fastened at her waist. A special bus picks her up from home and takes her to the SSF compound, where she has breakfast with her coworkers. From there, the bus drops her and her colleagues at the Movenpick.  

Four policewoman training classes have graduated from the Police Training School. the first one in 2001. However. this new career for women is still not fully accepted by society. One result of this lack of universal acceptance is that policewomen’s work has been restricted to particular security functions.

Graduates are deployed to areas such as the airport, the Civil Status Authority—where births and deaths are registered, and identity cards are issued—and other secure facilities that require a female presence to check other women for weapons.

It is a big commitment to work in security. A new recruit’s basic training lasts eight months. Training is unpaid, but room and board are provided because trainees are required to live at the school. They are allowed off campus only on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and usually use this free time to visit their families.

Al-Ahdal, a graduate of the third training class, in 2008, received theoretical training as well as practical field training. Her courses included forensic science and general criminal investigation. Male colleagues study the same subjects, but they undergo different, more physically demanding field exercises.

“We received training in self-defense, how to arrest criminals, the use of firearms, and how to march in military formation, such as in parades,” Al-Ahdal said.  

Al-Ahdal said that several of her colleagues have never tried to rise in the ranks. They remain at the level of soldiers because of the social stigma that often accompanies females in higher positions.  

This hasn’t stopped Al-Ahdal.

“I am now a member of the Counter-Terrorism Unit (CTU) of the Special Forces,” she said, something that was a goal of hers and that very few women achieve.

 With new ranks come higher salaries. Depending on the rank, those in Al-Ahdal’s profession can expect to make between YR35,000-50,000 ($163-$233) a month.  

All female training school graduates work in public security, but some of them specialize in fields like counterterrorism, corrections, and criminal investigation by taking an intensive two-month long training courses after graduating from  their eight-month basic training program.

Muneera Abdulla, a security worker from Dhamar, specialized in counter-terrorism after receiving training in this field. Abdulla believes that the presence of women in the security forces is crucial because there are situations that require females be present. For example, Yemeni social norms prohibit non-related men from entering a house in which women are present, however, policewomen can search inside houses during a raid, Abdulla said.  

“Through my job, I protect my homeland,” she proudly said.  

While Abdulla welcomes the excitement that come along with her assignments, other policewomen either refuse to work in particular institutions, or their families prohibit such work.   
Ibtisam Mohammed Ali is one of them. She was a member of the first graduating class of the training school in 2001. She has received offers to work in prisons and police stations, but she has turned them down.

“Society looks down upon women who spend time in such places, either as a prisoner or as an employee,” she said, adding that her family would never approve of such work.

Ali is currently the deputy head for Prisoner Care for Yemen, a position she identifies as administrative.

However, Sabah Yahia, the head of the secretarial department at the SSF, has another perspective. She said women specializing in security should be able to work in any security job. Yahia, a lieutenant, has worked as an detective at many of the Sana’a police stations.

“Even if society does not accept [a woman] working at such a place, I have definitely proved my competence,” she said.  

Though she entered this profession in 2001 mainly out of financial need, Yahia has grown to love her work, and has encouraged many of her friends to follow her lead.

Entry of women into the security field has facilitated work at airports, border crossings and ports, says Major General Tahir Ahmed, an assistant commander for the SSF.

“Policewomen have [been instrumental in the] capture of several female criminals,” he said.

Terrorists groups are also increasingly using women in their operations, something that Ahmed says will require a strong female security force to battle.  

Ahmed said they are always looking to increase their female recruits, especially since there are high turnover rates, which he attributes to women getting married and becoming mothers.  

He encourages women interested in a career in criminal justice to visit the Police Training School for information about the minimum requirements and how to apply.

Photos courtesy of the Moral Guidance of the Special Security Forces