By Adel Mansur
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
In a conservative Syrian town where women are discouraged from going out alone, young women are knocking on doors to recruit others to the resistance. They estimate a couple hundred women have joined a struggle that, nationwide, just claimed over 100 lives in 48 hours.
Many men, Nour says, have forbidden her and her allies from visiting their homes and trying to talk to women within. "They even called us names and tried hurting us so we would give up. But every time we face these slanders, we come out stronger and more determined to pursue our goals."
She says that more women are joining and finding ways to help each day. "Some prepare demonstration signs. Others take charge of the communication among group members. We are also strongly involved in our movement's exposure and communication tools, like Facebook. And we also provide special medical care to demonstrators who get injured during the protests."
When a demonstrator is seized by security forces, some women tend to the detainee's families by providing them with everything from food, rent and baby formula to contacts with lawyers.
Local activists estimate that hundreds in the area have been detained. Tight security measures mean the circumstances of arrest and activities at the detention centers are shrouded in secrecy.
For one 40-year-old lawyer, the high death toll of people in her community has only fueled her resolve. "I wanted to join protests after paying condolence visits to the areas that have a lost a high number of martyrs in the demonstrations," says the woman, who doesn't want to be identified for safety reasons.
Nour believes that the resistance marks a new era for Syrians in general and women in particular. Across all the regions, women have raised the same flag. Alongside male counterparts they have shouted the same demands: freedom, democracy and peace.
The government has consistently blamed the unrest on foreign-backed conspiracies, armed groups and terrorists. In the aftermath of December suicide bombings in Damascus that raises the specter of Al-Qaeda and a particularly negative scenario for women in Syria, where a moderate form of Islam treats women liberally compared to the fundamentalism of a society such as Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed to drive.
According to regime loyalists, if Islamists take power--following the example of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia --religious movements could push the country in a fundamentalist direction. Staged confessions of detainees on state television--where alleged perpetrators of violence have an Islamic appearance and express religious ideas--bolster that argument.
Nour brushes off the idea that the opposition in Syria represents a religiously inspired movement that could shift the society toward greater harassment and repression of women. "Generally speaking, we are not thinking about the coming phase," she says. "The priority today is to change this regime."
The possibility that women could be excluded or banished in the future by the leaders of the revolt, as has been the experience of women in other countries of the region, strikes her as remote.
"So far, there are no signs indicating it. On the contrary, men are giving us protection during the demonstrations and there have been no religious fatwas or instructions telling us to go home. My colleagues and I are confident that we have the power to take part in shaping the future for women in Syria."
Some women say they are still too afraid to join the protesters.
"First, there is the risk of arrest, which frightens me and would bring shame to my family," says a 39-year-old social worker. "And second there is risk of enduring violence at the hand of the regime's security forces."
"I am sometimes disappointed with the crippling fear in women's hearts," says Nour. "I try to push them to take action. Some of them try to discourage me by telling me that what I'm doing is dangerous, and that a woman should be at home and not on the street with men. But I am getting used to this type of thinking and I always try to excuse them. They've suffered so much oppression and cruelty from the regime and the society alike; and that's why this fear is so entrenched in everyone's heart, not only women's."
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The writer is a Syrian who is adopting a pseudonym for personal-safety reasons.
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