The “global primal scream” of the #MeToo movement has elevated conversations worldwide about how traditional gender roles perpetuate unequal dynamics that often lead to abuse and harassment. These discussions are both global and local, and have been taking place long before the movement began. In Syria, for example, women in different fields have been spearheading efforts to confront gender stereotypes, an especially important task as conflict and forced migration have irreversibly altered social structures inside the country.
According to the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, since the Syrian conflict began, women have played an important role in building independent news outlets, including SouriaLi Radio, Syrian Female Journalists Network (SFJN), and Enab Baladi. In 2014, feminist online movement Estayqazat and magazine Saiedet Souria, were also established, tackling controversial questions of gender. Now, a new online advocacy campaign, The Liberated T, is aiming to explore and dispel stereotypes confronting women in Syria.
“The Liberated T” takes its name from the Arabic letter “t” which is used at the end of grammatically feminine words. On the campaign’s Facebook page , the founders refer to the letter as “The Quiet T,” adding “Our campaign uses the same femininity T but we are changing its name into Liberated T, instead of quiet.”
The campaign was started in August 2017, in response to the conflict’s “deepening” of gender stereotypes, a member of the team, who prefers not to share their name, told Muftah. “Women are being pushed to the margins, not only in politics but also in the civil society organizations and in local governance,” the Liberated T team member said, adding that projects meant to “empower” Syrian women are in fact pigeonholing them, and reinforcing stereotypes, by offering things like knitting and sewing trainings.
Consisting of four fixed members and fifteen freelancers, The Liberated T team is geographically dispersed, in places like Turkey, Damascus, the suburbs of Aleppo, Idlib in northern Syria, and Hasakah in northeastern Syria, and in Lebanon. Members are mostly female, aged twenty-seven to thirty-four.
Using a combination of short “vox populi” videos, video profiles, animations, and graphics, the Liberated T dissects gender and upends stereotypes. Many of the vox populi clips juxtapose interviews with both men and women to highlight the double standards women face. The results are nuanced, with some responses adhering to and others upending gender roles.
Although the videos are specific to Syria, they reflect deeply entrenched prejudices confronting women worldwide. For example, in a video exploring attitudes about gender and careers, a male interviewee proclaims, “A woman is sentimental, she can’t work in politics, she will be led by others.”
Another video, “What if you were a woman/man” references the question of male allyship in the fight for women’s rights, with one woman stating that if she were a man, “I would have shown the world that, as a man, I can also defend women’s rights.”
In-depth profiles of Syrian female activists show a perspective not often reflected in traditional reportage about the conflict’s effects. For example, one female activist’s experience in besieged East Ghouta highlights the scarcity of feminine hygiene products caused by the stifling blockade.
Several of the Liberated T’s Facebook posts have elicited strong reactions in the comments section, including a general post published in November, introducing the mission of the campaign’s website, which generated criticism about the team’s motivations and religion of its members. According to the Liberated T, this bullying can deter women from sharing their stories. “Very brave, amazing women who are doing wonders in the most dangerous places are refusing to be featured [on Liberated T] only because they are afraid of the ‘bad comments’ they will surely get,” the campaign’s team member told Muftah.
As the world begins to consider what a “post-conflict” Syria may look like, ensuring that women have a role in reconciliation and rebuilding is crucial. In a blog post for the London School of Economics’ website, researcher Lana Khattab urged that questions of gender be prioritized in post-conflict discourse about Syria, saying that reconstructing the country’s “tattered social fabric” requires understanding pre-existing inequalities, as well as new vulnerabilities caused by the conflict. Projects like the Liberated T strike this delicate balance.