Meet the 23-year-old female kickboxer teaching Yemeni girls self-defense

Seham Amer is a kickboxing pioneer in Yemen. Often considered the first of her kind, Amer trains girls in martial arts. While Amer and her students are often discouraged from participating in the “masculine” sport, she continues to challenge notions of what Yemeni women can do. 

Amer told the Associated Press that her critics tell her “that the sport is masculine and that I have departed from feminine territory.” But that doesn’t stop her.

Amer started her journey with martial arts at age 6. She tried karate and kung fu before taking on kickboxing. Now a coach, she is training women at the Yemeni International Academy of Martial Arts in Sanaa, the capital. 

“In Yemeni society, people fear for girls,” Amer told the Hindustan Times. “Many come to train to learn self-defense, others train for fitness.” 

Amer has won gold and silver medals in international kickboxing competitions. Her success appears to be influencing how women imagine themselves in Yemen. 

“Before we had a problem with little girls who stop their training by 12 to 14 years as they could not continue with male trainers,” she said. “I feel that I have changed that now, older women come to train with me in my gym.”

Yemeni is struggling to close its gender gap. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020, 65 percent of Yemeni women are illiterate, compared to 27 percent of men, and Yemen ranks last of 153 countries in the gender gap index. 

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