Our Women on the Ground: Syrian Women are tired of only talking about ‘Women’s Issues’

More and more female Syrian writers, journalists, and artists are offering an alternative voice to the typically male, often autocratic voice that dominates the Middle East. The notion that Syrian women have much more to say than just commenting on their lives as women and on gender issues should be an obvious one, especially in War times.

Now, however, a growing chorus of Syrian women is offering an alternative to the typically male, often oppressive voice that dominates within their own societies (and in Western portrayals of the region). Through a variety of media, from journalism to television to literature, they are undermining the long-held narrative of Arab women as docile and submissive.

Syriatimes has interviewed a number of Syrian women, to take about issues related to women on the 25 of November marking the International day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. However we were shocked to discover that they no more want to discuss violence against women, gender issues, feminist ideology, or little trivial female issues. Syrian women in the war aftermath have changed considerably to become an integrated part of the national patrimony on economic, artistic, and intellectual levels. Moreover, the biggest proportion of Syria national income comes from women, since almost half of the women who survived the war are either widows or have lost the family breadwinner and become in charge of a whole family financial responsibilities.

Ms. Hanan Zahr Eldin, a lawyer and feminist activist, declared “The biggest problem of women is women themselves since women personatilies in the society are number one when it comes to raise and cultivate generations of both girls and boys, so they are to be blamed for gender discrimination between sexes that will later lead to violence against women from both men and women.” Ms. Zahr Eldin stressed as well the importance of law modifications to protect women against assault of any kind like verbal, physical, sexual or psychological; “despite the fact that unwritten social codes are much more influential in our oriental societies.” She ended.

Whereas, Ms. Fadia Abo Rayd stressed the difficulties facing single women if they decide to make an independent life away from their families, “It is still seen very odd in our society to accept single women as being successful and having to lead a  life by their own.” She explained that her experience as a woman who went to India to study to become a herbalist and an energy therapist has cost her a lot on the personal level, from the most beloved ones, her family. ‘However, now as a financially and socially independent woman, I have regained my family and they trust me the most in all their personal issues.” She exclaimed.

Whereas Aula Al Ayoubi art work conveys her own emotional feelings, in her representation of women portraits with passion fruits in the place of their sectioned brains, is a testimony of the creative mind of women. Al Ayoubi is a Syrian artist who studied mathematics and educational sciences at the University of Damascus and is a member of the Association of Fine Arts of Syria. The collages of Aula Al Ayoubi are a mix different media. Her creations represent portraits of the most iconic women from her childhood, Egyptian actress Faten Hamama to Lebanese singer Fairuz to the icon of Egyptian music Umm Kulthum. Punctuated with rich and colorful details, her dynamic compositions convey her own emotions in front of these famous people. In 2017, Aula Al Ayoubi participated in the exhibition Radical Love: Female Lust bringing together nearly 50 women Arab artists around Arabic poetry written by women mainly between the 7th century and 12th century. As a response to President Donald Trump's ban on travel to the United States, artists anchor their works and illustrations in women's sexual pleasure.

The least but not the last, Colette Khoury who is a pioneer of Arab feminism, and whowrote angry stories in the 1950s about men and their selfishness. She is a Syrian novelist and poet - also the granddaughter of former Syrian Prime Minister Faris al-Khoury. Khoury expressed her discontent with social constraints and the emptiness and aimlessness of her life; she also described her attempts to find salvation in love. Much of Khoury's work stemmed from her desire to avoid blatant retaliation; writing was the best and only way she could express herself. Khoury dedicated her work to immersing herself in the female psyche, particularly defending women's right to love. Khoury once said, "Since I always felt the need to express what was welling up inside me...the need to protest, the need to scream...and since I didn't want to scream with a knife, I screamed with my fingers and became a writer."

Throughout Syria’s long history women were not obedient and passive characters, on the contrary, going back to 5000 BC Syrian womanhood was represented by Ishtar Mesopotamian goddess closely associated with love and war, who is the first known deity for which we have written evidence. While largely unknown in the modern day, this powerful ancient deity had a complex and influential role in the religions and cultures of the Ancient Near East. Ishtar had a significant impact on the images and cults of many later goddesses, including the famous Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, and other well-known goddesses such as Astarte and Athena, who have continued to function as important cultural symbols. Ishtar, comparatively, has not enjoyed similar longevity to her image. From being among the most commonly attested of ancient Mesopotamian deities, she has fallen into almost complete obscurity. This blackout triggers many questions regarding her strange disappearance both in Occidental and Oriental cultures.

Zenobia, is the best illustration of “Women on ground”.  She the rebel warrior queen who took on Rome, this ancient queen of Palmyra conquered Egypt, captured Roman provinces, and nearly transformed her realm into an empire equal to Rome. Sitting at the crossroads between the Mediterranean world ruled by Rome and the great empires of Asia, her Empire became a center of huge strategic and economic importance.

Actually, Syrian contemporary women who are descend from a large dynasty of influential female figures, which offers an additional feature in their collective memories as ancestors of Goddesses and queens; yet, they only depend on their bright history in matters of inspiration; Ishtar and Zenobia are muses guiding their creative work.


Report by: Lama Alhassanieh