It has become abundantly clear in mainstream media, as well as in Syrian advocacy circles, that the extent of the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria is immeasurable. Most people familiar with what is happening in the country, and more specifically, in the northwestern part of the country, will know that basic infrastructure such as hospitals, schools and refugee camps are subjected daily to brutal bombing campaigns by the Syrian regime and its allies. This we know.
However, as a member of the young Syrian diaspora in the West, I have observed that there is a large gap of knowledge amongst members of the young Syrian diaspora about the extent of the impacts of this infrastructural breakdown on the local population of northwest Syria. What is particularly not discussed is the effects of the sustained demolition of hospitals and schools on women’s position in society.
Opening spaces to discuss how young members of the Syrian diaspora, and particularly the 1.5 and second generation, can support, advocate and stand in solidarity with women in northwest Syria is a crucial part in challenging existing obstacles that impede the creation of an equal environment for women, in which they can take up leadership positions without facing dangerous repercussions. As it is true that being in the diaspora, and far from northwest Syria, creates a disconnect between our work and reality, we must ensure that we are centering the voices of the Syrian women in northwest Syria in these topics on women leadership and health.
Reading any report regarding the situation of women in northwest Syria elucidates just how much women’s suffering has been compounded by the effects of war. A report by the International Rescue Committee has highlighted that the collapse of the healthcare system in northwest Syria, caused by years of sustained violence and extreme economic instability, has turned women’s experiences with sexual and reproductive health into a nightmare. According to this report, only 7% of health care centers in the region are able to provide comprehensive emergency maternity care and newborn care packages. In addition to the scarcity of maternity health care services, women must undergo labor, a long and tiring process, under the constant threat of a bomb hitting the facility they are in. The report added that this has had enormous negative repercussions on women’s mental health.
Maternity-related issues represent only part of what women in northwest Syria have to endure on a daily basis. As pointed out by almost all researchers, reporters and journalists looking into the role of women in the northwestern region of Syria, many barriers stand in the way of women in taking on leadership positions. A report by Action For Humanity and ActionAid Arab Region found that some of these barriers include the emphasis of domestic caring responsibilities over community leadership roles, lack of education, existing social norms, and gender-based violence, to name only a few.
Some of the specific issues women have been facing in northwest Syria were discussed in this article as provide examples of what we, as young members of the Syrian diaspora, need to further inform ourselves about and advocate against as per the call to action of Meagher et al. to “increas[e] the visibility of women role models in Syria and the Syrian diaspora at a global level through social media platforms and advocacy groups” (2021, p.122). What this article tells us is that the role of the diaspora is crucial in amplifying the voices of women in northwest Syria to show them our full support with regards to their inclusion in leadership roles in the humanitarian and health sector.
Today, we have many examples of transnational initiatives launched by Syrian women encouraging both women and men to participate in the conversation on the inclusion of women in leadership positions and the negative impact of patriarchy in the region. For example, we have the Action For Sama campaign, launched by Waad al-Kateab who aims to shed light on the systematic bombing of hospitals by the Syrian regime in opposition areas. Such a campaign is the definition of strong advocacy within the diaspora. Another example is the women-led Families For Freedom movement demanding the freedom of detainees. This movement is composed of women whose family members have been arbitrarily detained. They are a true example of what women leadership can look like in the Syrian context.
The above are only two examples, but there exist many similar women-led campaigns and organizations working tirelessly to support and sustain women livelihoods in northwest Syria and encourage their active participation in humanitarian and health work. Notably, the efforts of such organizations based in countries surrounding Syria including the Cevher Hayir Organization which works to create a culture of open conversation and remove taboos surrounding the political violence of women in politics in northwest Syria.
These examples show us, young members of the Syrian diaspora, that we do have a role to play in advocating for any initiative supporting women leadership in northwest Syria. This is not an easy task, especially if we were children the last time we saw Syria.
That said, some of the initiatives we could launch ourselves include creating rapport with women in northwest Syria and our university societies, allowing them to share their perspectives with our university peers. This does not only have to be done at university level but could be done in small focus groups to encourage active conversation and the breaking down of gender-based taboos. Another crucial suggestion that every great initiative needs is intergenerational knowledge sharing; we must acquire knowledge from the older generations of diaspora advocates on how to build greater solidarity and support for the growth of women leadership in northwest Syria.
The reality is that, with every year that passes, Syria falls deeper into the pit of ‘forgotten crises’, and with every year that passes, it also surpasses our expectations of humanitarian catastrophe. Therefore, it is crucial that we mobilize all the assets we have, including the young Syrian diaspora, to ensure that the marginalization of women in leadership comes to an end.
Written by Lily