Yemen capital hosts first women's pool tournament since rebel takeover


Sanaa (AFP)

The Yemeni capital Sanaa hosted its first women's pool tournament this week since its takeover by Shiite rebels plunged the country into a devastating war.

Organised by the women's section of the Yemeni billiard sports federation, the tournament drew 16 participants, most of them in their 20s, ready to challenge the taboos of a deeply patriarchal society.

Some wore the niqab, a black veil showing only the eyes, others wore a headscarf over their hair.

"Hail to the women that have taken this step despite the circumstances that we are in because of the war," said women's section head Balqees Husein Rifaat.

She said the rebel administration had not opposed the tournament but rather "encourages" women to take part "in all fields, including sports and politics".

Balqees said Yemeni society had opened up a little but acknowledged there were still many families that refused to allow their women to take part in sports.

"Everyone knows that women are half of society. How am I half a society if I’m hiding at home?"

Even before the war, Yemen was by far the Arab world's poorest country.

The United Nations says the conflict between the rebels and a Saudi-led coalition supporting the beleaguered government has since created the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

According to the UN children's organisation UNICEF, more than 40 percent of Yemeni girls are married before the age of 15 and three-quarters by 18.

The UN Population Fund says the incidence of child marriage has risen since the war erupted in 2014.