To this that could be discussed in terms

To understand the importance and
bravery of women and the feminist movement in the Syrian conflict, we must
first have basic knowledge of the conflict itself. How it came about and why it
has become such a complex matter. The initial tension in Syria arose from
revolution protests in 2011 that were inspired by similar protests that were
happening across the Middle East, this is known as the Arab Spring. Conflict
broke out after President Bashar Al-Assad moved tanks and armed forces into
cities across Syria and ordered them to open fire on civilian protesters and
other innocent civilians in order to crush the protest. However, armed rebel
groups formed in opposition to Assad, naming themselves the ‘Free

Syrian Army’. With the UN
unable to intervene due to blocking by Russia and China, Civil

War broke out in Syria as the
conflict grew and grew. By June of 2013 it was reported by the

United Nation and other sources that over 90,000 people had
been killed so far in this Civil War (I AM SYRIA, 2017). In the main body of my
essay 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 equality
among the sexes and advocacy for women’s rights. These rights even down to the
most basic human rights were extremely violated for women in Syria during the
Civil War, and even before this, the women of Syria lived a life of inequality
and objectification. There are many aspects of this that could be discussed in
terms of forced displacement and migration, forced militia recruitment, forced
detention, denial of fair trial, enslavement, denial of basic services and
being 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 form
of torture in the Syrian conflict.

 

While the majority of the Syrian Civil War was being fought
in the streets, it was also being fought in the regime’s illegal detention
centres. Rape was widely being used as a tool for control, intimidation, torture
and humiliation by soldiers from Assad’s regime in order to press information
from women on the actions and whereabouts of their husbands and as a form of
torture for captured rebels from the Free Syrian Army as they were forced to
watch their mothers, wives and daughters be raped in front of them.
(Womensmediacenter.com, 2017). According to reports from Lawyers and Doctors
for Human rights (Broadly, 2017), women were raped as a captivity weapon as
opposed to for sexual pleasure and told that this was deserved as they were
terrorists and traitors to their country. At the beginning of the Civil War
most women were detained for acts of protest and activism but further into the
war, were detained and tortured on behalf of the acts of their husbands and
other male family members and were to be used as bargaining chips by the Assad
regime against the rebels and Free Syrian Army. Although when detained women
were never given the reason as to why.

 

 

While being detained for the reasons mentioned above women
were subjected to horrific conditions and having their basic human rights
severely violated. Taking from the shared stories of women who have survived
these traumatic and life altering experiences, outside people can gain a level
of understanding as to what women went through in these detention centres. In
one case, a pregnant woman was arrested due to suspicions of her husband
supplying the rebel forces with medicine. She recalled seeing dead bodies being
dragged through cell corridors leaving the grounds covered in fresh blood and
being able to hear the torture of those imprisoned around her. While another
woman describes being locked in a completely blacked out cell for multiple days
accompanied by a dead body and a razor blade which was left purposely in the
hopes that she would use it to take her own life (McKernan, 2017). Despite
these harrowing accounts and harsh realities of the conflict happening in
Syria, more hopeful and encouraging stories can be found in the women of war
and the women’s revolution in Rojava.

After the withdrawal of Assad’s forces in 2012 from a
region known as Rojava in northern Syria, women have banded together to form a
women’s movement named The Committee of Diplomacy of Kongreya Star. The
fundamental goal of the committee is clear, to “overcome all forms of
domination, power, ownership and sexism to establish a truly free society” by
self-government and practicing equality for both sexes and all races and
religions. The Committee splits into 5 key sections in the areas of health,
education, problem-solving, self-defence and economy. They also aim to educate
and train women in the art of self- defence specifically in the areas of rape,
domestic violence and honour killings (Newsweek, 2017). This is a vitally
important aspect as mentioned in the previous paragraphs regarding women being
powerless to rape and imprisonment by Assad’s forces in Syria. Rather than
follow the structure of a top-down authority of State, Rojava has communal
assemblies with women at the co-chair of every one, in which the people of
these villages and towns have complete control of everything that concerns
them, such as healthcare, local environment and employment for example. When
confronted with the topic, the people of Rojava give positive feedback in
regards to their ‘Rojava model’ of self- governance and independency from
direct government. Also insisting that it should be adopted throughout the rest
of Syria and the wider world (Vice, 2017).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A critically important aspect to discuss regarding this
women’s revolution is their active resistance and action against The Islamic
State. Before this feminist revolution, Rojava was subject to the
Middle-Eastern norms of keeping women out of the labour and army force to stay
in the home and arranged child marriages. However now in Rojava, both are
illegal and women are equal to men in every field. This includes the all-women
militia named the Women’s Protection Units by more commonly referred to as the
YPJ, 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 as
40% of the resistance force against them is reported to be made up of these
Kurdish women, leading the world in percentages of women in the military (The
Kurdish 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 rape
then killing of women and the slaughter of men, these women are fighting for a
matter 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 military
front protecting their country from terrorism. It is also vital to look at the
faces fronting the women of the revolution, the women who give voices to the
voiceless and who ensure that these terrible acts against the women of Syria do
not go unheard and will hopefully be brought to justice.

From revolutions and movements in Syria itself to ones that
take place on social media on behalf of the Syrian women, there are numerous
women at the forefront trying to fight for their right for equality and
justice. One of the most startling cases is the one of Razan Zaitouneh.
Zaitouneh is a human rights defender, lawyer, writer and head of the Violations
Documentation Centre (VDC) in Syria. The VDC is a non-governmental organisation
(NGO) that logs human rights abuses that are committed by the Syrian government
in relation to the ongoing Syrian conflict. She along with her two colleagues
and husband were kidnapped by armed men in Douma on the on the 9th of December
2013, just before this abduction she was awarded the International Women of
Courage award as a testament to her work in Syria.  Although her and the other captive’s
whereabouts and wellbeing are still unknown to this day it is said that the
armed group named Army of Islam are responsible for their abduction as they had
heavy presence in the area of their abduction (FREE SILENCED VOICES OF SYRIA,
2017). This case is a testament to how desperately the Syrian government wanted
to keep their human rights abuses against their women, men and children behind
closed doors. It’s also a testament to how much power the Syrian government had
in the country, the ability to kidnap 4 innocent citizens and face no
consequences to this date. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the realms of social media, Syria’s online feminist
movement goes under the name Estayquazat, which translates to ‘She has Awoken’
in Arabic. In Syrian society it is taboo for women to discuss sexuality, the
groups aim is to empower women to confidently and freely discuss their sexuality
and to encourage a feminist movement in Syria. The minds behind this online
movement are made up of 30 volunteers from the Middle-East and throughout
Europe. The messages are portrayed on their website and social media through
short films which they gathered inspiration for from stories and anecdotes they
collected from women across Syria (Al-Monitor, 2017). One might think due to
this movement being on social media would be accompanied with a safety blanket
for its creators, but for security reasons, the creators remain completely
anonymous. Also, because the group “prefer to tell the story and not to be the
story” (Al-Monitor, 2017).

To conclude this essay, it has been made clear by the
points above that feminism and the fight for women’s rights is still an issue
being fought in Syria despite the constant, intense conflict threatening to
tear apart the country. On the fronts of battle, government and social media
women are holding their ground and fighting for their lives and causes against
all of the odds stacked against them. 

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