The woman in Syria: from Damascus to Idlib and Afrin

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January 29, 2018 – Fort Russ News – Paul Antonopoulos – Translated from Descifrando la Guerra.

MADRID, Spain – Normally the first thing that comes to mind when talking about Syria are the seven years of war that have watered the land of the whole country with blood. A long crisis that has not only sown death and misery, but has also led to a great increase in social inequalities. It is easy to believe that the main victims have been women being exposed to abuses of all kinds, however, despite the conflict, Syria has not stopped being one of the most advanced countries in the Arab world in terms of women’s rights.

It should be noted that in the Levantine country women have been able to vote since 1949. The Constitution of 1973 also calls for the equality of all citizens and has an article that requires the state to eliminate all obstacles to the development of women.

One of the main strengths of the Ba’ath party’s policy was to promote the integration of women in education in a process of literacy among the population. This is highlighted in a study conducted by the Library of the US Congress in 1987, which states that by that decade Syria had achieved the full enrollment of men and the enrollment of 85% of women in schools. A few decades later, in 2008, women came to represent about 46% of university students, mainly in degrees related to literature and education.

The Ba’ath government has also tried to integrate women into the workplace so that they have greater independence. This was so much so that the rate of female employment doubled between the decade of the 80’s and the 2000’s according to the data collected by the World Bank. These changes have occurred mainly in the cities, so in rural areas there has not yet been a great integration of women, who suffer worse conditions such as having to work more than 15 hours a day.

The public sector is the place with the highest concentration of women; around 73%. Following the traditional roles of women that are still rooted in much of Syrian society, they represent 63% of primary school teachers, 43% of secondary school and only 15% in the university. This structure of society becomes more tangible in rural areas, where due to the collapse of the system by the crisis, some tribal groups prevent their women from accessing the legal rights granted them by the government. This happens mainly in those more conservative areas where Islamic fundamentalists proliferate more easily.

Inequalities between the sexes in the country are usually inherited from laws based on the Shari’a, such as the idea that men should take care of family finances or that women can only get half of what their family receives. brother of an inheritance.

The insecurity of women is another major problem that is being addressed in Syria. The government decided to take action in 2009 after the surveys revealed that 67% of the women had suffered some kind of physical or verbal violence. This forced a greater hardening of the sentences, but with the beginning of the conflict in 2011 it was in a wet paper since they hardly apply.

In June 2016, Hada Half Abás was elected president of Parliament, becoming the first woman in the country to hold a similar position. The General Union of Syrian Women, financed by the Syrian government and affiliated with the Ba’ath party, is one of the main tools by which it is committed to promote the equality of women. This training was born from the union of several organizations and social assistance associations in 1967 with the aim of mobilizing women and making them have a tool to improve their educational level, ultimately political awareness, prepare to have a more effective role in social and economic development. According to the president of the General Union of Syrian Women Soad Bakkur, they have 14 branches throughout the country, 114 associations and 1850 centers.

The General Union of Syrian Women not only gets involved in the feminist movement but also has political positions such as the rejection of US intervention in the country or the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the Golan Heights.

The military aspect is undoubtedly one of the points in which the role of women in Syrian society is most remarkable. The Syrian Army has tried to encourage the affiliation to its ranks of women, mainly in the National Defense Forces; Local militias created in 2012 in order to defend their peoples. “We join the army to protect our city and our people, we have the same rights to protect our city.” Syria is a country that advocates for gender equality, “says Jiana Eid, one of 50 women who decided to join the FDN as volunteers at the end of 2017.

Its counterpart is women in the territory controlled by rebel groups. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, there are around 5,000 women in the ranks of the Free Syrian Army and similar organizations with an Islamist tendency.

One of the main female battalions can be found in the Al-Mouminin Aisha Battalion, in reference to the wife of the Prophet Muhammad.

Um Mohamed, leader of this unit that fought under the banner of the al-Tawhid Brigade at the Battle of Aleppo, established that all women who wanted to join should be part of the Islamic community of Aleppo, have a good reputation and fulfill their prayers. in addition to all other religious duties. The uniform of the brigade is the niqab and a diadem with the tawhid la ilaha ila allah (there is no other God than God ‘Allah’) in order to demonstrate their commitment to Islam.

In the north of Syria are the YPJ; female brigades linked to the PYD and its armed militia YPG. One of the peculiarities of the YPJ discourse that does not occur in the other camps is that it deals with feminism in a way that has earned the support of a large part of the western leftists.

The zones where these Kurdish brigades operate are not large urban centers, and if the women had not participated in the struggle against the Islamic State, there are populations that could not have resisted the harassment of the terrorist organization.

As a result of this threat, many women have joined public spaces that had previously been closed. However, these changes have more to do with the brigades and certain political spaces than with the homes, where traditional patriarchal logics such as the burqa or the niqab continue to prevail.

But what will happen in Syria when the conflict ends? Society has gone through great processes of change and transformation in all areas in recent years; mainly after the beginning of the armed conflict. The researcher and professor Pablo Sapag briefly presented the coexistence in the Levantine country in the following way:

Syrian society is a multi-faith society governed by a non-denominational, non-secular state (…) The Syrian state is a non-denominational state to guarantee the existence of a society that is historically multiconfessional as a result of geography (…) history ( …) Until well into the seventeenth century in Syria Islam does not become a relative majority in quantitative terms.

That is why one of the keys to reconciliation must be found in secularity, which has been represented by society itself during its history, where women, regardless of their religion and ethnicity, have been able to coexist without the existence of conflicts.

It is undeniable that the status of women in Syria is still pending to undergo major changes that equate those definitely not only at a legal level but at a practical level both in urban areas and in rural tribal areas. Although the future is still uncertain, there is something evident, and that is that women are going to play an essential role in the reconstruction of the country.

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