To understand the importance andbravery of women and the feminist movement in the Syrian conflict, we mustfirst have basic knowledge of the conflict itself. How it came about and why ithas become such a complex matter. The initial tension in Syria arose fromrevolution protests in 2011 that were inspired by similar protests that werehappening across the Middle East, this is known as the Arab Spring. Conflictbroke out after President Bashar Al-Assad moved tanks and armed forces intocities across Syria and ordered them to open fire on civilian protesters andother innocent civilians in order to crush the protest. However, armed rebelgroups formed in opposition to Assad, naming themselves the ‘Free Syrian Army’. With the UNunable to intervene due to blocking by Russia and China, Civil War broke out in Syria as theconflict grew and grew. By June of 2013 it was reported by the United Nation and other sources that over 90,000 people hadbeen killed so far in this Civil War (I AM SYRIA, 2017).
In the main body of myessay below I will be discussing gendering violence in the Syrian conflict,Rojava and the women of war, and lastly the women of the revolution. Feminism in its most basic form, is the push for equalityamong the sexes and advocacy for women’s rights. These rights even down to themost basic human rights were extremely violated for women in Syria during theCivil War, and even before this, the women of Syria lived a life of inequalityand objectification. There are many aspects of this that could be discussed interms of forced displacement and migration, forced militia recruitment, forceddetention, denial of fair trial, enslavement, denial of basic services andbeing forced into early and unwanted marriages (Taylor & Francis, 2017).The main focus here will be on the rape and sexual assault of women as a formof torture in the Syrian conflict.
While the majority of the Syrian Civil War was being foughtin the streets, it was also being fought in the regime’s illegal detentioncentres. Rape was widely being used as a tool for control, intimidation, tortureand humiliation by soldiers from Assad’s regime in order to press informationfrom women on the actions and whereabouts of their husbands and as a form oftorture for captured rebels from the Free Syrian Army as they were forced towatch their mothers, wives and daughters be raped in front of them.(Womensmediacenter.com, 2017).
According to reports from Lawyers and Doctorsfor Human rights (Broadly, 2017), women were raped as a captivity weapon asopposed to for sexual pleasure and told that this was deserved as they wereterrorists and traitors to their country. At the beginning of the Civil Warmost women were detained for acts of protest and activism but further into thewar, were detained and tortured on behalf of the acts of their husbands andother male family members and were to be used as bargaining chips by the Assadregime against the rebels and Free Syrian Army. Although when detained womenwere never given the reason as to why.
While being detained for the reasons mentioned above womenwere subjected to horrific conditions and having their basic human rightsseverely violated. Taking from the shared stories of women who have survivedthese traumatic and life altering experiences, outside people can gain a levelof understanding as to what women went through in these detention centres. Inone case, a pregnant woman was arrested due to suspicions of her husbandsupplying the rebel forces with medicine. She recalled seeing dead bodies beingdragged through cell corridors leaving the grounds covered in fresh blood andbeing able to hear the torture of those imprisoned around her. While anotherwoman describes being locked in a completely blacked out cell for multiple daysaccompanied by a dead body and a razor blade which was left purposely in thehopes that she would use it to take her own life (McKernan, 2017). Despitethese harrowing accounts and harsh realities of the conflict happening inSyria, more hopeful and encouraging stories can be found in the women of warand the women’s revolution in Rojava. After the withdrawal of Assad’s forces in 2012 from aregion known as Rojava in northern Syria, women have banded together to form awomen’s movement named The Committee of Diplomacy of Kongreya Star.
Thefundamental goal of the committee is clear, to “overcome all forms ofdomination, power, ownership and sexism to establish a truly free society” byself-government and practicing equality for both sexes and all races andreligions. The Committee splits into 5 key sections in the areas of health,education, problem-solving, self-defence and economy. They also aim to educateand train women in the art of self- defence specifically in the areas of rape,domestic violence and honour killings (Newsweek, 2017).
This is a vitallyimportant aspect as mentioned in the previous paragraphs regarding women beingpowerless to rape and imprisonment by Assad’s forces in Syria. Rather thanfollow the structure of a top-down authority of State, Rojava has communalassemblies with women at the co-chair of every one, in which the people ofthese villages and towns have complete control of everything that concernsthem, such as healthcare, local environment and employment for example. Whenconfronted with the topic, the people of Rojava give positive feedback inregards to their ‘Rojava model’ of self- governance and independency fromdirect government. Also insisting that it should be adopted throughout the restof Syria and the wider world (Vice, 2017). A critically important aspect to discuss regarding thiswomen’s revolution is their active resistance and action against The IslamicState. Before this feminist revolution, Rojava was subject to theMiddle-Eastern norms of keeping women out of the labour and army force to stayin the home and arranged child marriages.
However now in Rojava, both areillegal and women are equal to men in every field. This includes the all-womenmilitia named the Women’s Protection Units by more commonly referred to as theYPJ, hence why women are so active in this resistance as previously mentioned(Vice, 2017). Groups like the YPJ are vital in the Syrian fight against ISIS as40% of the resistance force against them is reported to be made up of theseKurdish women, leading the world in percentages of women in the military (TheKurdish Project, 2017). In regards to what these women are fighting for,considering the fate met by people who are defeated by ISIS which is mass rapethen killing of women and the slaughter of men, these women are fighting for amatter of life or death, self-defence and for their family and land (Cockburn,2017). Although it is highly important to look at these women on the militaryfront protecting their country from terrorism. It is also vital to look at thefaces fronting the women of the revolution, the women who give voices to thevoiceless and who ensure that these terrible acts against the women of Syria donot go unheard and will hopefully be brought to justice. From revolutions and movements in Syria itself to ones thattake place on social media on behalf of the Syrian women, there are numerouswomen at the forefront trying to fight for their right for equality andjustice.
One of the most startling cases is the one of Razan Zaitouneh.Zaitouneh is a human rights defender, lawyer, writer and head of the ViolationsDocumentation Centre (VDC) in Syria. The VDC is a non-governmental organisation(NGO) that logs human rights abuses that are committed by the Syrian governmentin relation to the ongoing Syrian conflict. She along with her two colleaguesand husband were kidnapped by armed men in Douma on the on the 9th of December2013, just before this abduction she was awarded the International Women ofCourage award as a testament to her work in Syria. Although her and the other captive’swhereabouts and wellbeing are still unknown to this day it is said that thearmed group named Army of Islam are responsible for their abduction as they hadheavy presence in the area of their abduction (FREE SILENCED VOICES OF SYRIA,2017). This case is a testament to how desperately the Syrian government wantedto keep their human rights abuses against their women, men and children behindclosed doors. It’s also a testament to how much power the Syrian government hadin the country, the ability to kidnap 4 innocent citizens and face noconsequences to this date. On the realms of social media, Syria’s online feministmovement goes under the name Estayquazat, which translates to ‘She has Awoken’in Arabic.
In Syrian society it is taboo for women to discuss sexuality, thegroups aim is to empower women to confidently and freely discuss their sexualityand to encourage a feminist movement in Syria. The minds behind this onlinemovement are made up of 30 volunteers from the Middle-East and throughoutEurope. The messages are portrayed on their website and social media throughshort films which they gathered inspiration for from stories and anecdotes theycollected from women across Syria (Al-Monitor, 2017). One might think due tothis movement being on social media would be accompanied with a safety blanketfor its creators, but for security reasons, the creators remain completelyanonymous. Also, because the group “prefer to tell the story and not to be thestory” (Al-Monitor, 2017).
To conclude this essay, it has been made clear by thepoints above that feminism and the fight for women’s rights is still an issuebeing fought in Syria despite the constant, intense conflict threatening totear apart the country. On the fronts of battle, government and social mediawomen are holding their ground and fighting for their lives and causes againstall of the odds stacked against them.