From Syria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Brandenburg’s State Parliament: Since Lama left her hometown Damascus, she initiated and developed various projects on women’s empowerment. What drives her to work with such determination for women’s rights after braving the horrors of war?
An Interview with Lama Ahmad and Lisa Crinon
Lama was pregnant when the Syrian revolution broke out in 2011. So she had to wait until 2013 to come to Germany together with her husband and daughter. Polis member Lisa Crinon spoke to Lama about her way into the German labour market and her commitment to supporting other women.
Dear Lama, what motivated you to get involved in German politics after you arrived in Berlin?
In Syria it is not easy for women to have a career, let alone to become a diplomat. Women usually sacrifice their professional life for their family. But I am against the idea of considering all women as victims and all men as evil. To liberate women in Syria we will have to liberate men also, teach them about freedom in order to establish a stable basis for sustaining progress. Unfortunately, law, religion and tradition in Syria represent the worst barriers for improving the conditions of women. I feel that Germany is the best place to pursue our fight for women’s rights. Here women are free from all these barriers and so I began to hope.
What is your professional background?
After graduating in economics in Damascus, I completed a one-year diplomatic training to enter the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. My family encouraged me to pursue a career as a diplomat as they work in powerful positions themselves. Entering the diplomatic corps requires difficult and complex examinations. It is not easy to gain such a position without a strong family.
I actually wanted to go to the conservatorium because I play the piano. But I also really like languages, French and English for example, and I love to discover new worlds. After graduating from the Diplomatic Academy, I started working in the press office at the Syrian MFA and later as a consul in Dubai for five years. I went back to Syria where I then managed the press office and became the Syrian contact person of the Arab Women Organisation. This last task opened my eyes for some issues. It was more based on the prestige than on the actual content: women’s rights.
What kind of professional experiences have you gained in Germany?
After I finished the German integration course, I completed an internship at the CDU parliamentary group in the state parliament of Brandenburg. After that I helped with translation and consultation in Syrian affairs. I then completed a one-year training in business administration at the University of Potsdam (in German). This was followed by a three-months internship in innovation management and entrepreneurship. Fortunately, my past working experiences were always recognised from my employers in Germany.
Now I am back in the CDU parliamentary group in Brandenburg where I work five hours a week as a consultant. My main task is to consult on the new integration law, recommendations for arrival policies, trauma support, and a better understanding of the living and arrival conditions of refugees. I also want to do a master’s degree in international relations or politics, and continue with German courses while I’m working in the state parliament.
How did you become passionate about women’s rights?
In 2016, after giving an interview which had a big impact in the media, I was contacted by members of the Syrian Feminist Lobby, a group of around 80 women from Syria, Jordan, Turkey and other parts of the world, among them ten in Germany. Their main goal is to empower women in political participation, for example, through increasing the number of women represented in the Syrian peace settlement and to remind the public that we are here. Honestly, I did not want to work with Syrian politics anymore, but after meeting with the group and seeing their commitment and passion, their hard-working manner and the great importance of their work I felt motivated to join them. And so today I represent the Syrian Feminist Lobby here in Germany.
At the moment, we are developing the idea of a workshop series on women’s empowerment as part of the integration process in host countries like Germany. This should be implemented in refugee camps all over the EU. Our aim is to help female refugees and support them in the long run. The workshops are designed to “train the trainers” and intend to have a snowball effect by informing women about their rights and empower them to spread this message around them. The mentors are personalities with a certain influence and good connections to other women. I give presentations for women in refugee camps on their needs in daily life while tackling some women empowerment topics. And I hope to discover potential mentors for the workshop.
What influences the opportunities for employment of female refugees the most?
Language is key if you want to reach out to people. The first integration prerequisite – and at the same time the first potential barrier – is language. When I go to camps and talk to people directly, language definitely helps to build bridges. The B1-level (German language level) that one achieves after an integration course will not open doors. C1 is the least. The second integration prerequisite is trust in the labour market. It was hard for me to get an internship. I succeeded through the support of one of my professors at the University of Potsdam. Accordingly, the third prerequisite in one’s way to integration is to be open to others. Everyone is a potential friend.
My husband and I completed the integration course together. We shared a school bank as we did at university back home in Syria. When we arrived as refugees in Germany, we had to get used to the idea of starting over. This somehow motivated us to restore our life through support and empathy but never through pitying ourselves nor feel it from others.
Lama Ahmad fled Syria in 2013 and came to Germany where she lives with her husband and daughter. The former Syrian diplomat works vividly to help other women in need, gives workshops in refugee camps and represents the Syrian Feminist Lobby in Germany.
Although the number of female refugees in Germany has increased since 2012, little attention has been drawn to their living conditions. For this reason we decided to initiate a project including a series of interviews with women from different countries to share and understand their experiences in the German labour market. We want to transmit a first and personal impression of how refugee women in Germany live and how they strive to live.
If you are interested in participating in this project and share your reality, we are looking forward to reading from you: hannah.newbery(at)polis180.org, lea.warlich(at)polis180.org, lisa.crinon(at)polis180.org or teresa.franitza(at)polis180.org.
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