MESOP MIDEAST WATCH: Women excluded from administrative representation in northern Syria, says female activists
Enab Baladi – Hadia Mansour 4.4.22Women in northwestern Syria are still striving to prove their capabilities in various fields, showing courage and determination to adapt despite all the deteriorating living conditions they have faced since more than eleven years of war, displacement, and pain.
The participation of women in administrative and local-governing work as half of society is still weak due to the sociological nature of the community, the impact of the regime’s mindset that has ruled the country for decades, and the rotation of various political and military powers over the opposition areas since the start of the revolution in March 2011.
All these factors have contributed to undermining women’s active participation in administrative positions in the northwestern region.
The women’s cries for freedom in Idlib city did not succeed in gaining seats in the local administration, as they have been absent from the ten ministries of the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG) since its formation in 2017.
The SSG, the ruling civil body of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) group, limited the role of women to medicine, education, and administrative positions in civil society organizations in its areas of control in Idlib and parts of the western countryside of Aleppo.
Also, the presence of administrative women in areas of the Turkish-backed opposition in the northern countryside of Aleppo city is almost non-existent in terms of numbers, attendance, and attention.
Despite the constant call for the necessity of women’s participation and the strengthening of their political role, the reality of the situation clearly shows their absence and perhaps their exclusion.
Obstacles hinder leadership
Ghalia al-Rahhal, a member of the Syrian Women’s Political Foundation Movement, told Enab Baladi that within these circumstances and facts, women should be given the opportunity to have a voice inside Syria, enabling them to interact with the international community, conveying to it their concerns, aspirations, suffering, and the reality of the difficult conditions they live in.
Al-Rahhal, who is an IDP living in Salqin town, said that most women’s gatherings in northwestern Syria are centers affiliated with civil society organizations, which provide academic awareness-raising courses in the field of management and political leadership.
The training seeks to enhance the role of women in decision-making and try to convey their voice and highlight their rights and suffering, she added.
Raeda al-Karama, 36, a member of Idlib’s Political Commission, sees the weak representation of women in some political bodies in the Idlib region as deliberate, which is limited to filling the “void” only.
The most important obstacles that still stand in the way of women’s participation in Idlib in the political environment are the lack of sufficient experience of women in this field, and their appearance as subservient to men, with lost rights and missing basic needs, al-Karama told Enab Baladi.
This is also due to the security chaos and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’s strictness and control over all decisions through the Salvation Government, she added.
Enab Baladi contacted the Salvation Government to find out the reasons for the absence of women from ministerial and administrative positions and their weak political representation in Idlib but did not get an answer.
Ahmed Husainat, head of the Political Commission in Idlib, stressed the importance of the role of women in the political environment and the Commission’s interest in their representation which reached up to 10 percent of the Commission’s members, while four women reached the Executive Office, Husainat told Enab Baladi.
The role of women in the political field is still weak and has receded from what it was at the beginning of the Syrian revolution for several reasons, Husainat says.
The most important of which are the inherited customs and traditions and the de-facto authority controlling Idlib, which limited women’s participation in all fields, including the political, relief, and service fields.
Also, there are obstacles related to the woman herself, which is the lack of awareness and the courage to enter the political experience to attend meetings and conferences and travel to different places, he added.
Leadership training to empower women
Several civil society organizations worked to launch leadership training that would raise awareness and educate women, to give them the opportunity to engage in future political battles and to be more active in society, as a timid attempt to empower women in the political and administrative fields in northwestern Syria.
Ghada Bakir, 47, director of the al-Bara’a Center for Psychological Support, told Enab Baladi that women desperately need the presence of political centers and gatherings that work to rehabilitate them and enhance their expertise in order to reach the level of effective decision-making in the future of their country.
The former member of the Justice for Syrian Women group added that women face threats from several parties, which makes them reluctant to participate in the field of politics.
Bakir said that some women preferred easier and less responsible fields, such as teaching, medicine, nursing, and professional empowerment, while a few of them turned to political work, which society still considers to be the preserve of men only.
For her part, civil activist Rama al-Said, 39, does not intend to engage in political work because of the suffering she will face to reach this role.
Al-Said believes that her struggle for positive influence and persuading those around her of her positions, which are considered marginalized and inexistent, will be confronted by the male aspect that refuses to activate the real role of women.
She believes that society does not believe in the productive and developmental roles of women but rather limits them to the reproductive, social, and educational roles, which is why women are constantly reluctant to participate in politics.
A study by the Omran Center for Strategic Studies on the participation of Syrian women in political work, published in May 2018, indicated that women’s experience in local councils did not witness significant actual participation in the framework of decision-making, as they were absent from most councils. In fact, their role was limited to managing the women’s office or carrying out administrative work as employees within councils.
According to the study, the weak representation of women in local councils is due to social reasons related to prevailing concepts and the reluctance of women to take the lead in this work, in addition to security reasons.
In October 2021, Enab Baladi published an in-depth file entitled “Who Rules Women in Northern Syria” about the key challenges that surround women residing in northern Syria and prevent their aspirations from being in line with the reality that imposed itself for political and security considerations that divided the country into areas governed by the de-facto authorities, each has its own law and political and legislative reference.
Enab Baladi’s file concluded that the main reasons for reducing women’s roles in the region and their active presence are the absence of controls and rules for the existing authorities’ dealing with women and the limited comprehension of religion in the mechanisms of the relationship with women’s roles, or the inherited social customs dominated by patriarchy.
Syrian women have achieved some positive gains in spite of attempts to exclude women politically and administratively, such as their continuous attempts to establish their presence within political bodies and increase participation in training and activities related to skills development and women’s entrepreneurship since the start of the Syrian war.