Thursday, 21 January 2016

As Syrian men go missing, women take new leadership roles, and bear new burdens


 'They survive shelling and barrel bombs from the Syrian government and, more recently, airstrikes from Russia. Some have been living under siege with little food and hardly any medicine or electricity for almost four years. With so many men killed or missing, it’s up to the women to run their community, and they’re making a difference in people’s lives, including their own.

 Like 25-year-old Zein, who refuses to leave Aleppo despite the daily shelling. She recalls the time when the peaceful uprising started to turn violent, and a shortage of trained medical staff compelled her and fellow activists to volunteer at their local field hospital.

 A few months ago, the Syrian government carried out an airstrike on the field hospital, and several of Zein’s activist friends were killed. Now she spends most of her time doing humanitarian relief work, and she leads an all-male team of aid workers as they distribute food and medicine to families in the area.

 “I’m usually the one who goes up to the front line despite the snipers and fire fighting in order to deliver a basket of goods to some family stranded there. The guys are too jittery to do it, and they’re amazed when I do,” she said, referring to the team she leads.

 “Before the war, women mainly stayed at home, cooking and caring for the family. But now, men work in a field hospital? Well so do I. Men have started to carry arms? Well, we have here in Aleppo an all-women’s brigade, and they fight on the front line. I’m not necessarily for the idea of carrying arms, but this has really changed perceptions. That a woman can do anything a man can do.”

 Maimona is a 30-year-old activist. She heads a child welfare organization called Herras, Arabic for guardianship, and oversees schools that are struggling to stay open. She describes women in their thirties, forties, even older, enrolling in adult education to earn their high school diploma.

 Many of these women have gone on to work in field hospitals or schools — Maimona estimates that 80 percent of the people working in those places now are women.

 “Perhaps this is a silver lining. When we started the Syrian revolution, it was also a revolution for women. And when the war is over, women’s accomplishments will remain.” '

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