By: Hanadi Zahlout
Syrian women may well be the weakest link in the chain of conflict whose noose seems to be tightening around everyone’s neck. Those women each of whom has lost a brother, a friend, a father, or son; whose brothers were arrested; and whose loved ones died in front of their eyes; have sheltered both young and old under their wings, and have been forced to flee with those who remain.
Weakness, breakdowns, crying, loss; these are the images oft carried by the news media. Many of these media may have missed the other side of these Syrian women—that of strength, struggle, and stoicism.
[International] organizations have routinely dealt in a facile manner in their reports on the plight of women; thereby stripping their problems—innumerable, as they are—to a bare core, and chiming their empty bells which the world has all but deafened itself to, to no avail.
These are women that have, for years, been suffering under the yoke of a social system that seems content to relegate them to the lowest rungs of the ladder—even leniently tolerating their killers on the pretext of reasons of “honor.” These are women who were prevented from work; or from marrying the men they love; or from completing their education under social or economic pretexts. They have, today, become independent and responsible women—perhaps to an extent that holds as many rights in their favor, as it places an onerous burden of responsibility over their shoulders.
One elderly woman whom I know personally, quite committed to her hijab, took off her headscarf to be able to board a flight under a false identity, without arousing any suspicions.
My Parisian neighbor, on the other hand, had met her husband in Turkey after having made acquaintance as media correspondents via Skype. They had a religious marriage with a Shaykh’s officiation [but without registering it with any official authorities]. Obtaining a divorce from his wife whom he had left behind in Syria when he was wanted [by security service] at the beginning of the Revolution, was impossible. The two now live together with their young daughter, and are treated by French authorities as an unmarried couple.
This lady is now required by her husband—who continues his work, and has no to time otherwise—to perfect her French language; to ensure following up of all transactions and documentation for asylum seekers; as well as caring for her young child. She, on the other hand, longs to complete her studies, yet finds no opportunity to do so!
Another friend of mine who had been lucky enough to make it to Sweden, was betrayed by her husband in Turkey. She left him to travel away with her small daughter, whom she had previously rescued her from a fire that broke out at her home in the [Damascus suburb of] al-Muaddamiyyah, when it was attacked by regime forces who committed a massacre that has caused panic ever since.
She chanced a meeting with a man who had himself lost his wife, and travelled with her on the same death boat—accompanied by his three daughters. She now has a large family that gives her an immense indescribable joy. She cannot tell her mother any stories regarding these girls, or how she raises them and lives with their father; as she is unable, to date, to obtain a legal divorce from the man who had betrayed her in the darkest moments of her exile.
There are numerous other examples I have personally come across of women, who were compelled to leave the country after having had an affluent and stable situation. They now find themselves forced to live in penury and need, suffering the cruelty of exile with their husbands and children in Europe—a continent itself in the throes a severe job crisis.
There also are other women who increasingly feel the loss of their country’s atmosphere, which used to allow hijabi and non-hijabi alike to study and work. Many among them today face individuals in Western society who judge them solely based on their choice of dress. Some countries stipulate removing their hijab in the workplace as a prerequisite—thereby posing a serious challenge for them, of maintaining their [religious] convictions whilst proving their abilities.
What remains certain, however, is that the Revolution that came out to uphold the values of freedom and social justice, has made it incumbent upon all of us today to test our values, our convictions, and our prior judgments against women—based on their education, or their clothing choices, etc... It makes it incumbent upon us to carefully re-think the notion: Are Syrian women who bear all this misery alongside their male compatriots, a true partner to them?
Opinion articles published do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Rozana.