Southern Women's Sports: Rich History and Hope Against Marginalization


Wed, 26-01-2022 07:15 PM, Aden

Reem Al-Fadhli (South24) 

Women's sports sector in South Yemen has the biggest share of intentional marginalization like other sectors which have been totally destroyed after the Unity Agreement in the 1990s. 

This came although this sector had witnessed unprecedented boom during the Southern Yemen era as many women won a lot of titles after participation in many international competitions.

Currently, this sector is witnessing a modest comeback in Aden, especially in the girl’s schools amid optimism about more interest in the coming period to restore the big Southern women heritage which was previously a unique feature for Aden and South Yemen.

A player participating in the table tennis tournament in Aden January 10, 2022 (Noha Al-Haidari, South24)

Rich history

Features that showed interest in women's sports in Aden emerged at the beginning of the 1940s during British colonialism. 

Schools in the city were interested in sports and encouraged girls to practice it.

The community support of women's sports was the most prominent factor for the growing interest by Aden and Southern families in practicing them. 

The booming pace of  women's sports continued after South Yemen's independence from the UK in 1967 as  the then- Southern Government showed interest in this sector. [1]

At the beginning of 1960s, the prominent Adani figure Fawzia Ghanem made an important achievement in the history of Southern women's sports when she added basketball to the Crater Girls Prep School.

In 1975, the Adani woman, Nawal Qassem Seif, who is a well known figure in the Arab world, was assigned to establish Volleyball Federation in Aden,  which included women,  and to be its first president. 

Southern women practiced many sports such as tennis, table tennis, soccer, basketball, martial arts (including taekwondo), as well as mental sports such as chess.  

Southern girls and women also participated in Arab and international sports competitions. In 1973, for example, Southern women participated in the Three Continents Table Tennis Championships in the Republic of China. [1]

In 1975, Southern women participated in the Chess International Championship held in Libya, and one of them won the Bronze medal. [1] 

According to Mohammed Al-Saqqaf, the President of Table Tennis Federation in Aden, the history of women's sports in South Yemen is not limited to external participation only but they actually won several titles and medals.

In exclusive statements to “South24”, he named some of those winners saying: “Table Tennis female players made great achievements such as Majida Abd Al-Majeed, the Arab heroine in single competitions, who won gold, silver and bronze medals in external tournaments, and Naila Abbas, who reached the final levels in many Arab and international championships”.

He added: “There are also the sisters, Lina and Louay Sabri, who won many cups and golden medals in the Double category of Arab competitions, as well as Amany Abdullah, Iman Sorour and Samira Abdullah…etc. Those heroines wrote their names in gold”. 

The aforementioned heroine Louay Sabri, told “South24”: “The 1970s era was full of exceptional sporting achievements”.

Sabri, who is currently the Deputy Head of the STC’s Women's Department for Youth and Sports added: “Interest in the women's sports sector reached a remarkable and big level in a way that yielded great historical results”.


The Southern sports sector in general and the feminine one in particular suffered from much Marginalization after the Yemeni Unity and the 1994 war.

The former Yemeni regime used to encourage the Women's sports in Sanaa at the expense of Aden over the years following the Unity.

In this regard, Abdullah Al-Bakry, Undersecretary of the Office of the Ministry of Youth and Sports in Aden told “South24” that “since the 1990s, Sanaa Regime used exclusion and marginalization against the Southern clubs and deactivated their roles”.

“This came in complete contrast with the women’s clubs in Sanaa which remarkably got much interest in the post-Unity era” he added. 

Al-Bakry believes that the “Southerners in the sports sector, especially regarding women suffered the utmost degree of Marginalization to the extent that those who are not aware of the historical background may think for a while that Aden and South Yemen Never embraced this sector”.

Likewise, Al-Saqqaf agreed with Al-Bakry’s view as he told “South24” that “sports in South Yemen in general suffered from exclusions and marginalization after the Yemeni Unity which was supposed to be a new birth for all aspects of life, especially sports”. 

He pointed out that “the Southern capital was in the forefront in all sports at the level of the Arab Peninsula, and in reproducing other sports”.

He added: “It used to be a source of pride for us in front of other nations during our participation in regional and international competitions. We used to make distinctive results and overcome countries with remarkable achievements”.

As for the impact of the “intrusive ideology” that accompanied the Unity on the civilian life in South Yemen, Al-Saqqaf  said: “those who allowed killing us by a takfiri fatwa and deemed us as communists and atheists, how do you expect that they could show interest in women’s sports in Aden?”

For her part, sports affairs journalist Donia Hussein Farhan said that Southern female athletes suffered alienation. 

She told “South24” that “following the Unity, the Ministry of Youth and Sports, affiliated with Sanaa Regime, played a big role in preventing the participation of Southern female athletes in sports events as they selected Northern female players to represent the unified  Yemen abroad”. 

“The ministry closed all women gyms in Aden,  moved all sports federations to Sanaa and monopolized sports in girls schools as  holding those school events became rare” She added.

Farhan believes that this exclusion “was a result of a systematic intentional behaviour that aims to change the reality of Aden which was superior in all aspects of life especially sports”.

As being an eyewitness who had been affected by  such Marginalization and exclusion, Louay Sabri, said: “The post-unity era witnessed major violations of the right to sport in Aden, especially when investors transformed halls and gyms into places for holding weddings, and when sports were privatized in southern Yemen. From the moment on, the actual deterioration of sport in Aden began."

The return of women’s sports

In 2017, the girls’ sports activities witnessed a remarkable return in Aden’s schools after a long absence. In October 2020, The Ministry of Youth and Sports gave instructions to its office in Aden for reactivating the female sports. The office formed a committee called “Women’s Sports Committee-Aden” headed by “Nawal Wars Shammo”. [2]

The committee organized a number of championships for girls at the level of schools to discover talented elements in different districts in Aden. It coordinated with the Adani Sports clubs to include them in some sports”. [2]

STC Women Affairs Department for Youth and Sports played a pivotal role in reviving sports in general in Aden and South Yemen governorates including women’s sports. The most important achievement by the Department was organizing two versions of the Aden Sports Festival. 

The activities of the Aden Sports Festival included the participation of women in Athletics.

Speaking about the latest Table Tennis Women Championship, organized by the Federation’s branch in Aden, and supervised by the Sports’ office between 10-12 January, Al-Bakry said: “It is the result of actual actions by the Federation and the women's sector, in cooperation with the Ministry of Youth and Sports”. 

Table Tennis Championship in Aden (Jan 10th 2022 (Noha Al-Haidari, South24)

He added that “there are effective steps by federations in cooperation with the Sports and Youth Office to reactivate the women’s sports and restore their forgotten glories”.

For his part, Al-Saqqaf said: “We have to feel optimistic that during the coming days and months, women’s sports will enjoy their due right of care and interest to restore their old glories as an influential sports element”.

He pointed to “attempts to get women's sports out of their slumber and for enabling women to practice their athletic role and express their talents”.

The Table Tennis Federation President added that “this championship is part of the 2022 plan for this sport”, stressing that “building should be based on practical plans, so the current year will be full of several championships that allow girls and women of this elegant sport to express their talents and innovations Without supervision and exclusion as it prevailed before 2015”. 

Reem Al-Fadhli 

Editor and Journalist

Photo: Jalila Abdel Hamid, the winner of Table Tennis Championship in Aden. Jan 10th 2022 (Noha Al-Haidari, South24)


[1] Book: Aden Sports Clubs.. Their Origins and History, Ahmed Mohsen Ahmed 

[2] Aden Time Newspaper