The war in Syria transformed the role of women through empowerment | News from the war in Syria
When violence erupted in Syria in 2011, Ghasak al-Ali was a high school student. Now, at just 27, she is the breadwinner of 11 family members – something that would have been almost unthinkable before the war.
A decade of conflict is shifting traditional values towards gender roles, as the death, injuries, emigration and disappearance in the notorious prisons of President Bashar al-Assad have deprived tens of thousands of families of their men.
Women are pushed into the role of provider in a way that few people have experienced before.
Al-Ali, from Saraqeb, in rural Idlib, the country’s last rebel-controlled province, had to find work at the age of 23 after his father broke his back and couldn’t no longer continue his employment. As the oldest of her siblings, she had to take responsibility for the family, gaining humanitarian work and later, as she developed her skills, journalism.
“I know many women who have found themselves as breadwinners for their families and it has changed their status considerably. They are no longer housewives, but hard working women, ”she said via a message from Idlib.
“The difficult conditions we have experienced have completely changed the role of women and the opinion of men on the need for women to work.”
According to a report by the global anti-poverty and hunger charity Care, only 4 percent of Syrian families were headed by women before 2011. This figure has now risen to 22 percent.
Serious economic problems and lack of food for people are pushing even more women to look for work, with families struggling to cope with a 236 percent increase in food prices in 2020 alone, according to the reports. figures from the World Food Program (WFP). According to the United Nations, 60% of the population struggles to find enough food every day.
Women are disproportionately affected by food scarcity, according to Care, with less access to formal jobs and fewer professional skills, and those who work often have to take on home care responsibilities as well. However, the benefits of women’s economic empowerment “go beyond financial well-being”.
“Economically empowered women are also more likely to be empowered in their households and communities, more able to participate in decision-making. This reduces the risk of exploitation, marginalization and vulnerability of women and leads to long-term changes in social norms and economic structures that benefit entire communities, ”the report says.
Changing old and deeply held societal norms, however, can be hard work for those leading the charge.
“The pressures to earn a living are enormous – I was a student who took money from my father and now I am responsible for securing the lives of my family members. I am frustrated by the difficulties in finding a job, in moving between cities and in the opinion of the society towards me at work, ”said al-Ali.
“I have challenges, especially at checkpoints as the only woman on my team. I have to take my brother with me to get permission to pass, and he has to show documents proving that he is my brother.
The number of people killed in 10 years of fighting in Syria is not known, but the United Kingdom-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates it to be between 387,000 and 593,000. Seven million people have been internally displaced, 40 percent of whom have fled their homes at least three times, and 5.6 million have gone abroad, mainly to neighboring Turkey and Lebanon.
Those who remained now face the currency collapse and fallout from the financial crisis in neighboring Lebanon, as well as US sanctions against the Assad regime. On Tuesday, the Syrian pound hit its lowest black market rate against the dollar, according to the Beirut-based Daily Star newspaper, and is now worth 99% less than before the war.
Adding further pressure, many families are now at risk of losing their homes after a new cash-strapped government legal amendment means those who did not do military service before the age of 43 must pay $ 8,000 or lose their property.
A continued boom in women joining the workforce could contribute to the economy and help protect their households from economic shocks and stresses. However, Ghalia al-Rahal, co-founder of the Mazaya Center for Women in northwestern Syria, said women still suffer from a lack of representation in decision-making roles, which means it is difficult to create meaningful change.
“There is no women’s body for women to communicate their demands and opinions on issues related to women – such as harassment, violence and exploitation – and issues of public interest that are of concern. implications for women, which limits the capacity for positive change, ”she said. .
“The reduced number of men means that women are now responsible for providing for their families and their needs, perhaps also caring for an injured husband, while society also exercises authority over her. and restricts its behavior. “
The Mazaya Center works to empower women, educate them about their health and equip them with potential professional skills such as first aid, IT and literacy.
Al-Rahal said that Syrian women who have not completed formal education are now accepting manual professions, such as selling on stalls, making candy, weaving, sewing and working in farmland or in small factories. Those with training tend to work in civil society organizations or become business leaders.
“During the last series of trips [amid the regime offensive to retake Idlib in 2019-2020], many women have learned to drive and have acquired the ability to coordinate work both inside and outside the home, ”she said.
“Women were among the first to demand freedom at the start of the revolution. They were deliberately marginalized under the control of armed factions which did not give them representation, but they continued to struggle in the course of their civilian labor activities.
In the UK, US and Germany, World War I pushed women into farming and production roles and it became a defining period for women’s equality. Could the war in Syria have a similar long-term legacy for his women?
“We have noticed a real change in the level of awareness of women’s rights,” said Noura Abdel Karim, project coordinator at the Maram Foundation, which helps vulnerable people in Syria.
“Women workers face challenges in a cultural, social and ideological context regarding mixing with men and how this affects family relationships. However, many men recognize the capabilities of women and value economic empowerment, especially husbands who have remained disabled. “
For al-Ali, the work gave him a maturity and an understanding of life that she might not otherwise have developed.
“I have gained a lot of experience and acquired a lot of skills. I went from being a shy girl to an active woman who has many friendships and knows a lot of people, which has taken me out of the isolation I used to live in, ”she said.
“I want my daughters in the future to have an important role in society.”