Syria, Women and the Revolution
Omar el Assad - 22/04/2012
The story narrates that a woman from Douma, in Damascus’s countryside, carried a pot on her head to bring food to the soldiers on guard near her home everyday at mealtime. Before leaving them, she always advised them: “My children do not target the head, nor the chest, shoot in the air or shoot their feet just to scare them because they are your brothers.” The story says that this woman’s children have always participated in demonstrations against Bashar Assad’s regime since the outbreak of protests on the 15th of March 2011. She never stopped feeding soldiers although she knows that someday, a bullet from one of their weapons might kill one of her children.
This is not the only story that the Syrians, living daily with blood and death for the past year, tell each other on women and their participation in the revolution. Women not only play an important role among political and cultural elites but also at the popular level in terms of organisation, information, technical aspects, material and moral support.
Among other things, the Syrian revolution has proved that Syrian women play a very important role in society and that they are even more interested in public affairs than all the past years since the independence of Syria in 1964. During the revolution, Syrian women contribute to public issues. The Syrian people will certainly never forget the names of several women they have chanted as from the beginning of the revolution. The first protests that started in Deraa repeated the names of the detainees of the time such as Souhair Atassi, Nahed Badwia and Dana Jawabra alongside other names. “Freedom” is the dominant slogan of this revolution where women are playing a more important role. A large number of women participated in the first demonstrations before the repression became more radical. Women were even the initiators of several actions. This is how protests strictly organised, protected and supervised by women were held in many cities. In Damascus, all inhabitants remember the women’s march in the Salhia area or that in Souk Medhat Pacha. Women marches were also held in bombarded regions like Baba Amr, Deraa and other areas and cities in the north and south of the country.
Today, Syria keeps the memories of several images of women taking honourable positions. Everyone remembers the young girl who enveloped herself in a Syrian flag chanting the word freedom in front of the Omeyyad Mosque on the 15th of March, heard and seen by all the present policemen. Marwa Ghamyen had stood against injustice. She was arrested and became one of those names that Syrian collective memory will never forget. Many other names of men and women who have been killed or arrested have joined the list. Statistics from the observatory of human rights violations in Syria (published on the 8th of March 2012) count 212 arrested women, including 8 children and more than 300 women killed including 131 children.
Repression campaigns have neither spared nor protected women and activists have dedicated more than one day to the name of arrested or martyr women such as “Freedom Tuesday for Bahra Hijazi”, the documentary filmmaker and visual artist who spent nearly two months in jail. One Friday was named “Free Syrian Women’s Friday” in recognition and tribute to all the sacrifices made by women for the revolution. In addition, in the framework of these actions that are today called “group committees”, some strictly feminine “committees” have been formed. All members are women who run the protests and ensure security. They also provide material support and medical assistance to their associations. Everyone knows Umm Mohamed now, most probably the nickname of an activist from the countryside of Damascus who was arrested for having sent medical supplies and food to affected areas in the countryside near Damascus and to some dissident members of the army. A quick glance at the annals of protests would clearly show the large number of women who participated to the revolution, who were arrested, killed, those who became known for their opposition to the regime. In Soueida, everyone tells the story of Souria Nassif who welcomed about twenty protestors in her home in Shebha after the police had surrounded them. The police asked her and her husband to hand over the young people who were hiding at their house. They both refused to do so and did not bow to pressure. After hours of negotiation, the police asked them to hand over just four youngsters and in return they would raise the siege of the house and let all the other young people free. The answer was clear: “If you want four persons, then take them. I have three children and with my husband that will make four. You can arrest them but you will not take those who have sought refuge here.”
Syrian women are not only present on the ground, taking part in protests where the tension was at its utmost. Syrian female activists have also used virtual space to express their opposition to the regime. On the 8th March, in order to celebrate International Woman’s Day, several young women have changed their Facebook profiles and put the following sentence as their status: “the revolution is feminine” to assert the role they play in the bloody events that the country has been going through for the past year.
On the 21st March 2012, all Facebook profiles were replaced by “Mothers of Martyrs Day”, in tribute to mothers who have lost their children during the revolution. We are now aware of the role that Syrian female activists play by contributing to the update of the survey of human rights violations, the dissemination of news and information through the Internet and via humanitarian and charity organisations. Many documentary films on the Syrian revolution have apparently been edited by women whose names have been omitted for security reasons. Many paintings, drawings and banners waved in the streets or exchanged by activists on the Internet have been designed by female Syrian artists, especially young ones.
Some young women have chosen music to express their opposition to the Syrian regime. With regards to the songs of the revolution, it would be interesting to have a look at the page www.facebook.com/dndne.indesasye2 where Syrian songs whose lyrics have been changed are available online. These songs are joyfully interpreted by the group called “banoutates” (little girls). They have reinterpreted Fadh Ballad Wachrah’s famous song laha (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bsKgMk0k2g8), rewritten to evoke the Syrian president’s relationship with Hadil Al Alii whose story has been disclosed by the president’s personal email that were hacked and published in the media.
Syrian authors and writers who have experienced prison and exile due to their writings and their opposition to the regime have also taken position. Among them, one can mention Rosa Hassan or Racha Omrane who was dismissed from her job and forced to leave Syria. The Syrian regime has also led a violent campaign against Samar Yazbek who is accused of treason and obliged to leave the country to continue her struggle in exile where she has written the first chronicle of the Syrian revolution in Arabic entitled “Crossfire”.
Khawla Donia can be added to these names. She is one of the most important writers and activists who have analysed the revolution, its background and its causes. She criticised the regime in more than one article that were published in the press. Today, she continues being active in Syria. There is also the human rights activist Razane Zeituna, one of the most important figures of the revolution who lives in exile.
Syrian women have proven the feminine nature of the revolution. They have shown that Syria is still alive, fertile and capable of generating a rule of law that respects citizenship and equality. When the Syrians people will achieve their goal, they will remember that nothing would have ever been possible without the participation of women who have influenced the course of events.
Omar el Assad
Translated from French by Elizabeth Grech