Exclusive - Campaign in Raqqa, Deir Ezzour Seeks More Female Involvement in Politics
International, Russian and American agreements have seen calm return to the northern Syrian city of Raqqa. This has also seen the deployment of border guards that are loyal to the regime in its western and southern countrysides.
Meanwhile, local civil organizations launched the “We Are Here” campaign aimed at achieving greater involvement for women in political and civilian life. Organizers are working on several levels, including empowering and rehabilitating women and raising their awareness. The campaign is ultimately aimed at restoring the role of women in society and ridding them of all forms of extremist ideology that was imposed by the radical ISIS group during the years of its rule between 2014 and 2017. Civil activists and organizations launched the campaign in October and its many activities have included training workshops and mural drawing.
Deir Ezzour native Lamia Suleiman is the executive director of the “Bidaya” organization. She told Asharq Al-Awsat that the main role of women in daily life “does not reflect the price they have paid throughout years of displacement, violations and loss.”
She did note the “symbolic” implementation of a quota and appointment of women in public office and local councils in the autonomous administration in northern and eastern Syria.
“The symbolic representation and the distribution of positions is a temporary phase that is being positively used in favor of women,” she added. She hoped that this will pave the way for women to play a greater role in public life, “but most importantly, it should lead to laws and regulations that protect their rights.”
In a statement released on social media in support of the “We Are Here” campaign, civil society organizations in northeastern Syria said: “We support the effective participation of Syrian women and their representation in decision-making positions in a constructive way.” They also demanded “providing protection of activists and actors in the civil and humanitarian domain from all parties to the conflict in northeastern Syria, which is a complex operating with exceptional conditions.”
Wesal, an activist taking part in the campaign, said female participation will remain “superficial” as long as they cannot play an effective role in political decision-making. She said women are still marginalized, “despite some positive points.”
She called for participation in civil organizations that focus on spreading political and civilian ideas “because they defend their rights, raise society’s awareness on the most significant issues and help contribute in making decisions related to her local society and governance.”
She spoke of many issues that women in Raqqa and throughout Syria should work on, such as Syrian women’s right to give their nationality to their children and the need to ratify laws on greater female representation in parliament and government.
The activists and organizers launched a #wearehere campaign that gained huge following online. The campaign promoted traditional way of life in Raqqa among other aspects of daily life.
Alia Ahmed, who had taken part in the campaign, said it was important for the constitution to safeguard women’s rights and ensure their effective participation in political, economic, social and cultural life.
“We also want to hold war criminals accountable and ensure the fair participation of all segments of society without discrimination,” she added. One of the obstacles hindering this effort is the stereotypical and out-dated image people still have of women. They also still suffer from marginalization that was created by the former extremist rulers.
“Women have also lost confidence in themselves and they have received little support from their surroundings,” she lamented.
“The international community must not abandon its support to northeastern Syria, and specially Raqqa” where more than 80 percent of its buildings have been damaged according to Amnesty International, said the civil society organizations in northeastern Syria.
Raqqa native, Rana said that no matter who was ruling the area, Raqqa will remain for its people. “The darkness that was spread by the armed groups has started to fade and destruction is gradually being removed. Streets have been adorned by murals that reflect Raqqa’s real heritage.”
Life is gradually returning to normal in Raqqa and Deir Ezzour thanks to the efforts of local organizations that are exerting efforts to improve the situation after years of war. Challenges remain, however. Malak, an activist from Deir Ezzour, said the lack of safe environment for the participation of women and the scarcity of political empowerment and training programs is holding them back.