Event report

10 Years of Syrian Conflict – Women’s Voices


March 15, 2021, 7-8 pm

The Arab Uprisings started 10 years ago and led to the unfolding of irreversible political and societal change in many countries. In Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, the decade-old regimes were brought down as a direct consequence of the revolutions and in several others, mass protests have led to significant legislative changes. Syria is the most prominent example of the regime responding violently to protesters, leading to an armed conflict that has taken an immense human toll and pushed wide parts of the country into destruction

We were pleased to talk to Bayan Alfadel. She is a PHD candidate at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona researching the effects of UN (non-) resolutions on the development of the Syrian crisis. Together with our audience, we discussed the Syrian context before the conflict, women’s role in the 2011 protests, and their experiences throughout the last ten years.  

Bayan explained the legal provisions prior to 2011 which were not guaranteeing gender equality. Women could not make decisions on work, travel, or their dress code without the approval of their father or husband and still cannot pass their citizenship to their children by law. Moreover, one in three women has experienced domestic violence and there is still little access to legal assistance. Bayan explained that laws on women (e.g. on dress code) were made under the banner of protecting women, however stripping them of any decision rights.

With the start of the conflict in 2011, women went to the streets as much as their male counterparts in the hope of changing the status quo. Slogans such as “my voice is a revolution not a shame” were in reference to women often being silenced in public spaces due to gender-based discrimination. Bayan argued that on the one hand, the revolution and the conflict led to a kind of liberation of women in the Syrian society, but on the other hand, they were also disproportionately affected by violence. Sexual violence, for example, has been used by all parties to the conflict without exception and many women died in the attacks by different parties on civilians. But despite their strong engagement during the revolution, women stayed excluded from participating in peace talks until 2015.

Another important aspect of Bayan’s work focuses on the support of women that were detained  and tortured in  Syrian prisons. After these women were released, they faced the trauma of the torture, as well as the social stigma linked to the sexual abuse in society – unlike men, who were seen as heroes. Women are met with victimization as well as blame and became outcasts of society for the cruelties they experienced. 

In addition to traumatic and gender-specific experiences of this war, and conflict on women more generally, the most crucial response is enabling women to become independent and stable. However, Bayan says that support is often limited to donor preferences. Project cycles and reporting goals, she says, ignore the need for longterm and sustainable responses. Covering humanitarian needs for survival is crucial, but investing in capacities and self-reliance will only enable women and societies to truly become self-sufficient and independent and use these skills for the future of their communities and countries. Bayan highlights that it cannot be enough to focus on the suffering alone but also on the future the women can enabled.

 All in all, we had a highly intriguing discussion and greatly expanded our knowledge about the multifacetedness of the specific impact of conflict on women. 

This event was organized by Polis180’s programs Gender and International Politics. 

© 2015-2018 Polis180 e.V. | Grassroots-Thinktank für Außen- und Europapolitik

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