The Syrian ancient history knew many women whose names have been immortalized to this day, and perhaps Zenobia, the queen of Palmyra is the greatest example of this, but everything changed for the Syrian women under the Ottoman occupation that worked to spread ignorance, backwardness, and outdated customs and traditions that made women slaves trapped within four walls.
At the end of the nineteenth century, with the weakness of the Ottoman Empire, women in Syria began to move, as the Syrian capital, Damascus, witnessed the first women’s demonstration against the Ottomans, in which one of the women was wounded.
Women struggling occupation and deprivation of rights
After the secret Sykes-Picot agreement signed in 1916 and the French occupation entering the Syrian territories, the name of Nazik al-Abed who was appointed as the first woman officer in the Syrian army emerged, and she fought alongside Yusuf al-Azmeh. In that period, the name of Ibrahim Hanano’s daughter “Nabaha”, his sister and other women who resisted the French occupation also appeared.
After Syria gained independence in 1946 and the first parliamentary elections held in the following year, women were denied the right to vote and be elected, and in Husni al-Zaeem’s coup d’état in 1949, women were granted the right to vote, that they had access to primary education while they were denied from the nomination right.
In 1953, during the rule of President Adib al-Shishakli, women were granted the right to vote and be elected, and this was the first constitution to grant women the right to run.
Organization is prohibited outside the Baath Party organizations
In the time of unity between Syria and Egypt, two women obtained membership of the National Assembly in 1960, and after separation, women were allowed to vote only. After the Baath Party assumed power in 1963, it exploited women for partisan propaganda and did not fulfill any of the demands that had been raised by women’s groups as reform of laws, divorce, marriage and inheritance.
Later, especially after the February Movement 1966, the Baath Party intentionally controlled women’s associations, restricting their work under the pretext of establishing the General Women’s Union, and it became obligatory for those who wished to carry out any activity related to women to join it instead of doing their activities outside it. The freedom of expression and freedom of the press, in addition to the licenses of many newspapers and magazines were abolished, among them were women’s magazines that advocated the emancipation of women and their participation in social and political life.
To work off the women’s energies, the Baath Party worked at the end of 1966 to form women’s preparatory committees to discuss the project of establishing a women’s general union. After only a few months, the legislative decree No. 121 was issued on 26/08/1967, which stipulated the creation of the Women’s General Union as a popular organization to mobilize the people’s energy in the service of the national interest, and appointed “Suad al-Abdullah” as the head of the union.
This decree was later canceled and replaced by the amended law by the legislative decree No. 3 dated 5/2/1984. Then, the Minister of Social Affairs and Labor No. 694 dated 16/9/1986 issued the internal regulations of the Women’s General Union that prohibited the work of any women’s organization outside the framework of the Women’s Union.
The union defined itself as a popular organization for women, but it was closely related to the Baath Party and known in the popular circles as a semi-official entity that strengthens the party’s power in the feminist circles. The union moved away from the cultural and ethnic diversity and even the diversity of opinion, and each member was required to be affiliated with the Baath Party.
The Baath Party did not allow any activity of women’s organization on its soil, and at the same time the women’s union it formed was not concerned with women’s issues and rights.
For example, the Personal Status Law specified the age of marriage for the young women of 17 years of age, but it was permissible for minors (a young man of 15 years of age and a young woman of 13 years of age) to ask the judge to authorize them to marry with two conditions that “the judge determined the validity of their claim and the probability of their bodies.”
Women were also killed under “honor crimes” and the criminal was granted reduced sentences, as articles (192-240-241-542-548) of the Syrian Constitution enhance the continuity of honor crimes in society.
This is in addition to depriving women of inheritance, and many other laws that clarify the distinction between women and men on the basis of gender.
As a result of the acquiescence of the women’s union of the Baath Party, no feminist movement was seen in Syria, so secret organizations that have sought to educate women about their rights have emerged, and the Star Union (Kongra Star now) which was established in February 2005 is the best example of that.
The goal of the Star Union aimed to build a free society and strive to end all forms of inequality between women and men. The union expanded its activities among women and was able to organize thousands of women in Rojava and the Syrian cities where the Kurdish people are present.
Syrian women and revolution…
With the start of the revolution in Syria on 15 March 2011, women actively participated in the demonstrations and demanded their rights. On May 13, special demonstrations for women were organized, but the regime confronted the demonstrators and arrested hundreds of them.
Despite the arrest, the Syrian women continued to participate in the demonstrations, but the regime, instead of releasing the detained women, has entered new women in the detention centers, filling the regime’s prisons with women activists.
With the emergence of armed groups, women have become between the Syrian government forces on the one hand and the gunmen on the other, so kidnapping, detention, rape, displacement and poverty spread.
In this context, the Syrian writer and journalist Hadil Owais noted: “The activity and movement of women in Syria since the beginning of the crisis was prohibited, especially any political activity, and also any public activity of women was prohibited, so how if the women’s activity was political and public, then the woman was proactive as they were among the first detainees and the first activists in the revolution, and those who have written about the revolution.”
She added: “Women and youth activity reminds the society that there was a movement called the Syrian revolution, which drew the attention of the international media through the stories of the bravery of Syrian women.”
Women and war tragedies …
Rape, harassment, sexual violence in prisons and detention centers, torture in irregular places of detention and forced marriage, kidnapping frighten most Syrians and have been recorded as the most common forms of violence targeting women, especially since the beginning of the crisis.
Reports from various organizations recorded that women are the most at risk of physical assault, rape, murder, being trafficked and kidnapped in the conflict areas, without humanitarian organizations protecting them.
In this context, the administrator in the Organization Office of the Syrian Women’s Council, Shams Sino, said that the most of the areas in which women, especially the Yezidi women were exposed to violence were ISIS mercenaries’ and more recently the Turkish occupation’s areas in Afrin, Serêkaniyê and Girê Spî / Tel Abyad.
In a previous report published in June 2014, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees warned that tens of thousands of Syrian women had fallen into the cycle of hardship, isolation and anxiety to struggle for survival and living in a deadly war.
The writer and journalist Hadil Owais said that the conditions of the Syrian war from starvation, poverty and immigration have made women tasting the woe, and women have become the sole breadwinner for their families under conditions of bombing, destruction and killing.
She added: “There are women who are exploited in the camps of Turkey, especially women who have lost their breadwinners, and underage girls are forcibly married in exchange for small sums of money. In addition, there are also stories of exploitation of women from the neighboring and non-democratic countries.”
She pointed out that 80% of the displaced within the recent displacement from Idlib are children and women, and they taste the two bitters.
Statistics of conflict victims over 9 years
Many parties document the number of civilian casualties in the Syrian crisis, which has completed its ninth year and entered its tenth year, as hardly a day passes and no woman is killed.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimated that the number of people killed since the beginning of the crisis until 4 January 2020 is about 585,000 people.
While the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights counted in a report in 2018 that more than 106,390 civilians have been killed since March 15, 2011, including 19,811 children and 12,513 women. In 2019, it said that the number of civilian deaths reached 112,000, including more than 21,000 children and 13,000 women.
The Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria has published in recent years about the presence of 440 women in prisons and detention centers, while other unofficial reports have said that there are at least 13,000 women who are still being held in Syrian government prisons until the moment.
Turkish occupation targets Kurdish women
In the areas occupied by Turkey from Syria, the Human Rights Organization of Afrin canton documented the violations practiced by the Turkish occupation and its mercenaries against women by 30%, ranging from kidnapping, rape, and killing.
In the details, the organization documented more than 50 cases of killing of women by various methods and motives, and 60 cases of rape after kidnapping, relying on the testimonies of Afrin residents who fled the occupation.
As for the kidnappings, the organization documented the kidnapping of more than 1000 citizens by the mercenaries of the so-called military occupation of the Turkish occupation, as their fate remains unknown to this day, while some of the women were released after a ransom was paid by their families.
In the occupied city of Serêkaniyê, according to what documented by informed sources from the city, 30 women were sexually assaulted, including 5 Jijan women, 2 Kurdish women, and 23 Arab women.
Hiding the voice calling for Syrian unity … Hevrin Khalaf
Since Turkey’s occupation of Syrian regions where the majority of the Kurds live (Afrin, Serêkaniyê and Girê Spî) by sordid agreements with Russia and America, it has been committing war crimes, crimes against humanity, forced displacement of the indigenous population and a change in the demographic composition.
These crimes were committed in particular against women, but the crime committed against the Secretary of the Future Syria Party, Hevrin Khalaf, on October 12, 2019 remains the most heinous crime.
In this context, the administrative member of the Organization Office of the Syrian Women Council, Shams Sino, demanded punishing the perpetrators of the crime against Hevrin Khalaf in accordance with the human rights laws and international law.
Shams described Hevrin Khalaf as having had an effective role in building peace as a political and diplomatic figure who used to work on collecting the Syrian components to develop solutions for building Syria and the exit of Syrians and Syrian women from this crisis.
Women in north Syria … the model in the Middle East
With the beginning of the Syrian revolution, many feminist organizations were formed in Syria, some of which have become linked to abroad with no actual presence on the ground, but only in the north and east of Syria, the feminist organizations developed and their number increased.
The Star Union which was established in 2005 increased its activity considerably and set its sights on reaching every woman in north and east Syria. In its regular conference held on February 25, 2016, it changed its name to Kongra Star. Furthermore, Sara Organization was also formed to combat violence against women in January 2013, the Syriac Women Union in 2014 and other organizations.
Women also played a role in the military field, and on April 4, 2013, the Women Protection Units (YPJ) were formed as an army specialized to women to protect them and safeguard their rights.
These forces played a prominent role in combating and defeating ISIS, as well as fighting Jabhet al-Nusra and groups affiliated with Turkey and the Turkish army, so a delegation of women from Rojava was invited on 5 December 2018 to participate in a dialogue forum with the participation of 200 women from 16 countries around the world about freedom for women in the Indian city of Bangalore.
Politically, women in northern and eastern Syria have made historic steps by establishing the Syrian Women Council, their role in the Syrian Democratic Council and the Future Syria Party and their administration of the region by following the model of the co-chairmanship of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria and its institutions.
In this context, Shams Sino, the member of the Organization Office of the Syrian Democratic Council said: “The role of women in northern and eastern Syria drew the world’s attention to them, and it has become a role model.”