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Unheard no more: New campaign calls for inclusion of women in shaping Syria’s future Open in fullscreen

Nicholas Frakes

Unheard no more: New campaign calls for inclusion of women in shaping Syria’s future

Women have been subjected to egregious human rights abuses during Syria's war [Getty]

Date of publication: 8 March, 2019

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Syrian women must have an official and active role in seeking justice and shaping the country’s future, Amnesty International said, as it launched a new campaign.

Amnesty International launched a campaign on Friday calling for the inclusion of Syrian women in political processes shaping the future of the war-torn country.

The campaign, called Unheard no more: Syrian women shaping Syria's future, was launched to coincide with International Women's Day and also saw the release of a short film that highlights the struggles women have faced since the start of the Civil War in 2011.

"Eight years since the start of the crisis, Syrian women have suffered tremendously over the course of the conflict, yet they've not given up and have instead become brave everyday heroes," Amnesty International's Middle East Campaign Director Samah Hadid said.

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Women's participation in political processes is fundamental for achieving gender equality and human rights for all, Amnesty said.

The international community, especially Iran, Turkey and Russia, must pressure the Syrian government and armed opposition groups to "end sexual and other gender-based violence and discrimination."

"They must also consult with women and ensure that they are represented effectively in peace talks, negotiations, the drafting of the constitution and other peace-building processes," Hadid said.

Women's participation in political processes is fundamental for achieving gender equality and human rights for all

Equal political participation

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Leen Hashem, Amnesty International's Syria campaigner, told The New Arab that the main focus of the campaign is to promote and advance "equal political participation" of Syrian women activists in current political processes shaping the future of the country.

"The main idea was that Syrian women have been through a lot before 2011, but, especially after the uprising in 2011, they have lost their homes, they have been evacuated, they have been refugees handling their whole families on their own, they have been prisoners, detained, disappeared, they have their loved ones disappeared, husbands, fathers, mothers, sons, sisters and they have been amazing at inspiring activists who are doing a lot," she said.

"So, they are not simply victims. They are a major active element of their societies and their country. They have been active inside and outside of Syria, before [the start of the Civil War], throughout and until now. These women deserve to be at the negotiating tables, any political process that the world is leading to resolve the conflict in Syria.

"Their voices must be heard because they are not only victims. They also have the solutions and they are the ones who experienced the major brunt of the war."

Their voices must be heard because they are not only victims. They also have the solutions and they are the ones who experienced the major brunt of the war

In Syria, this was a sentiment echoed by Dana, a Syrian woman living in Damascus, who discussed the vast differences in gender equality in her country.

"What I would do if I were in a position of power is start campaigns to give the public an idea about what it is like to be a woman," she told The New Arab.

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"Maybe then people will have some compassion and some equality as a result because people are just not aware of what women go through and they think that they are living their best life and that's just not right."

Dana added that women are often taken for granted and that the perception is that if a woman is able to work a full-time job, then she has equality, an idea that she strongly disagrees with.

She explained: "People just take it for granted. They think that equality means that you can work normal jobs, but they don't know that, yes, she is working, but she is also raising the kids and cleaning the house and making dinner.

"And they think that that is fine. That it is equality. She's working like a man in the morning, that's her problem if she has other things to do. But the man is just going back and watching a football game at home instead of doing things and helping with the kids.

"So, people are just not aware. And some are educated people who have higher education and they still think like that. Some women just don't know that they should be fighting for their rights. They're like 'Yeah, of course it is normal. Of course he's not going to change a baby's diaper.' And I'm like 'No! That's his kid too!'"

Bear the brunt of war

The short film made by Amnesty International looks at the lives and experiences of 12 Syrian women who left Syria.

In it, the film is meant to highlight the experiences of those women and to "mobilise the international audience and public opinion to support these women and stand in solidarity with them."

"They had to leave because of the war. Because of their political opinions," Amnesty's Hashem told The New Arab.

While the film focuses on women outside of Syria, the campaign is meant to support and give Syrian women, both at home and abroad, the opportunity to speak up and be heard.

Hashem said: "The campaign stands with Syrian women everywhere because we know that the women inside Syria are still bearing a huge brunt of the war and the aftermath whether they are in the areas controlled by the government or by armed groups."

She continued: "These women also want to say that they have the right to have a say in the future of Syria. Every single issue on the future of Syria matters to them. It is not only that they want women's rights. No. They want a country where there is equality and social justice. They say that 'Every single issue matters to us because the army, the state institutions, what the state would look like, food is our issue, security is our issue.'

"These women also have this vision of participating equally and shaping the whole future of Syria. That will happen by actually listening to what these women have to say. Not just the women in the film, but, also, women everywhere. Syrian women have been organising in organisations, starting initiatives, starting NGOs all around the world."

These women also want to say that they have the right to have a say in the future of Syria. Every single issue on the future of Syria matters to them. It is not only that they want women's rights. No. They want a country where there is equality and social justice

According to Hashem, people can help Syrian women by "sharing their voices on social media, listening to what they have to say or supporting them in everyday life. This is on one level".

She added: "On another level, what can actually be done is to include these women effectively in the political processes.

"Women, so far, have only been represented by voices that are either pro-government or pro-opposition, but there is a huge spectrum of independent voices, of various backgrounds of Syrian women that, also, must be amplified and heard and given the space to actually make decisions and provide solutions at the negotiation table." 

Gender equality in politics

Dana, when asked, agreed that many of the people representing the women in Syria do not always know what is best.

She said: "Even the women that are involved in these conversations, I don't think that they are talking about the issues that they should be defending. They're not really aware of the problems that other women are having because when you get to a certain place, you are kind of privileged and that would make you unaware of other women's problems."

Hashem later explained that Syrian women also need the opportunity to voice their opinions where Russia, Iran and Turkey are concerned. 

She said: "They have all of the capacities. They just need us to support them and provide the space."

When asked what she wants to see change in her country as Syria looks to the future, Dana explained that should would like to see more gender equality as a whole throughout the country, both in and out of politics.

"I would like to see more change in law for granting more rights for women. In our society, people usually hear about gender equality and equal rights for women and people just take that as enough because they're hearing that phrase," she told The New Arab.

I think that fixing things to do with education to start with and, then, in 10 to 15 years, people will be more open to electing women into the parliament and, maybe, being more able, as a woman, to speak in the parliament to give your opinion 

"So, whenever you're defending women's rights, people are like 'Oh we need someone to defend our rights! You're being defended enough.' But it's just talk, though.

"I do believe that there's still this stigma for women that they're "not ready" for leadership roles."

Dana added that there needs to be a "safe place for them [women] to go and be protected so that they can talk about their problems like domestic violence because these women can't get their voices out".

Dana also believes that creating a better education system in Syria could be "the most basic thing" to do to progress women's equality in the country and that it could lead to more women not only being involved in politics, but also allowing them to feel freer to speak their mind while in parliament.

She explained: "I think that fixing things to do with education to start with and, then, in 10 to 15 years, people will be more open to electing women into the parliament and, maybe, being more able, as a woman, to speak in the parliament to give your opinion and not worry about being judged and having that confidence that is currently missing."

She also added that there needs to be law enforcement reform so that people can rely on and trust the system to work.

Dana said: "I think that we have good enough laws to be functioning, but the enforcement isn't so good.

"With corruption and things taking too long in court, people just don't really depend on the courts that much anymore. And I think that that is not a good basis for a society."

She later said: "I'm glad that organisations are interested in fixing the issues that we have here [in Syria]. I do hope that they succeed."

Dana jokingly added: "I hope that they just give us more time and do not get sick of us because we're a little slow when it comes to change."

Nicholas Frakes is a freelance journalist who reports from London, the Middle East and North Africa.

Follow him on Twitter: @nic_frakes

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