Since the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011, Syrian women, as a group, have taken on new roles, as reflected by an increase in the number of female headed households. According to the United Nations Population Fund, nearly one in every three households in Syria is headed by a woman. There is a similar trend among displaced Syrians, with 40 percent female headed households in Jordan and 30 percent in Lebanon, according to non-profit organization CARE.
In addition to shouldering increased financial responsibilities, Syrian women have played an essential role in creating and fostering civil society initiatives across the country, as well as resisting extremism. In a blog post published on her website, writer and human rights activist Leila Al-Shami describes how, at great risk to themselves, female community members have spearheaded initiatives such as women’s centers that advocate for women’s involvement in political affairs, mobilize for their rights, and help them become financially independent through vocational training:
The Syrian-led NGO Women Now for Development has two centres in Idlib, one of which runs an internet café for women. They run leadership programmes for women and many of their graduates have gone on to work in local councils. Their first centre in Idlib was established in Maarat al-Numan in 2014 and is run by Muzna al-Jundi, a 30-year-old mother of two and graduate in technical engineering. In 2016 the centre participated in preparations for the local council election.
In Kafranbel, the Mazaya centre was set up in June 2013 by Ghalya Rahal in order to teach vocational skills to women allowing them to achieve financial independence, to hold discussions on women’s rights issues, and to challenge the increasing threats posed by radical Islamist groups. Today the Mazaya Organization runs eight centres in Idlib province as well as medical clinics and a women’s magazine.
Such initiatives have drawn the ire of hardline groups, like Hayat Tahrir Al Sham (HTS), with some women facing detention and assassination attempts at the hands of these organizations. Women have also directly rallied their communities against these extremist groups through media campaigns, public demonstrations, and grassroots activism.
Despite these efforts, many have pointed out that women are woefully underrepresented in the peacebuilding process. Al-Shami’s piece is a searing reminder that it is incumbent upon the international community not only to include women in peacebuilding and transitional justice, but to also ensure that their voices are at the very heart of the process.
Read Al-Shami’s full piece here.