‘She has big dreams’

Video journalism by Liberated T

This article is included in the Autumn 2018 issue of Syria Notes.

Liberated T is a Syrian advocacy campaign aiming to change negative gender stereotypes, by focusing on Syrian women’s stories, and by exposing gender based violations in their daily life.

The campaign’s output includes a compelling series of short document­ary videos surveying popular opinion on gender issues. Made by a small permanent team, and some frequent collaborators, these short films try to show ways in which many of the Syrian public see women-related issues, and how gender roles and double standards are imposed on women who are still regarded as dependants.

In contrast, the videos featured below are interviews with individual women pushing against these boundaries. The revolution has brought changes both good and bad for women. ‘Many women got empowered because of the war, while others were weakened even further,’ says Zaina Erhaim, manager at Liberated T. One concern is that the challenges for women, and for the NGOs tackling these issues, may be under-appreciated or forgotten by other Syrians far from these communities.

While the campaign has received supportive and encouraging responses, it has also been met with threatening and bullying attacks. But the name of their campaign suggests they won’t be silenced: it comes from the ‘quiet T’ that in standard Arabic language is added to a verb to make it feminine, and so the campaign’s ‘Liberated T’ is a feminine T that is not content to remain quiet.

More of their short films can be found via the Liberated T website at www.liberated-t.com, and on their YouTube channel, Facebook page, and Twitter account.

Video interview with Joudy Arsh, media activist:

‘My name is Joudy Arsh. I am twenty-four years old, from Homs city.

‘I started working in media in 2013, after being detained in 2012, and I was summoned for interrogation again after a little while. I had no choice but to continue working with the revolution through media.
‘I started working with local coordination bodies. At the time the Syrian media did not have the level of outreach it enjoys today. Then I started working with Reuters, I became a reporter in my town, and after that I worked as a reporter for Orient News, and also I worked for Anadolu News Agency.

‘Of course working in this field as a girl, particularly in the beginning, and especially as I was the only girl reporting in Homs city was very hard, because not many girls work in this field in our community. The majority of girls worked in relatively easier fields like the medical and relief fields. At the time, dealing with the community and how they looked at me was difficult. How could a girl work in such a field that requires socialising and being in direct contact with men? That required a lot of determination until I reached the level I am at now.’

Interview with Muzna al Jundi:

‘I am Muzna al Jundi. I am thirty years old, married, and a mother of two. I graduated in 2011 from the technical engineering school, and my specialisation is in biotechnology.

‘In March 2014 we opened the Women Now centre in Ma’arat al Numan. We started working on the educational empowerment of women by providing courses in literacy, English and French languages, and basic computer skills. Then we started on the financial empowerment of women by adding courses in hairdressing and nursing. We tried to add more courses every year, so as not to repeat ourselves.

‘Regarding challenges, frankly, personally I haven’t faced any. All those around me have been supportive and helpful: my father, brothers, and my husband. And the one who helps me most is my mother.

‘Regarding our local community, they were cooperative. Once they invited our centre to participate in the preparatory committee for the local council in 2016.

‘I dream that I will develop and grow along with Women Now, as I began with them. I am now the person responsible for all our work in the Idlib area. I wish that we’ll see peace and security in our homeland, and that everyone will live in peace and security. This is the most important thing.’

Video interview with Ghada Bakeer:

‘My name is Ghada Bakeer. I was a teacher, and now after the revolution I am still in education, however I’m running Baraa, a psycho-social support centre for children. I am also a trainer in the Afaq academy, and a coordinator in the Equality for Syrian Women network.

‘My family had a history of opposing the regime, however they were against me being a part of that because I am a woman. My brother participated in the demonstrations, but did not want me doing the same.

‘One of the main difficulties I faced then was that I was still married, but I was following my dream in taking part in the demonstrations, so I insisted on this. And I didn’t just take part in them; I also organised many women’s demonstrations in my town.

‘My marriage wasn’t successful from the beginning. We had plenty of disagreements. In 2015 these increased a lot as I started working in NGOs. The gap increased and it reached the point of him trying to kill me. That led to finally enabling me to get a divorce, after suffering for a whole year from the burns I sustained during his attempt to kill me. I was also paralysed during that year.

‘Until this crime, my family were against me and did not support my request for a divorce, but after that it became impossible for me to return to him, so I got the divorce.

‘Despite all that, I feel that my life is better for being active in the revolution, and after the divorce I became more successful. I didn’t lose anything; on the contrary, my divorce was on the table for the whole fifteen years of marriage. But for my family, that could not happen. In our society, for their daughter to be a divorcee was a shame they couldn’t handle, especially because I work. But for me it’s an accomplishment, given the harsh consequences I had to deal with.’

Interview with Ghalia Rahhal:

‘I’m Ghalia Rahhal from the town of Kafranbel, the founder of Mazaya women’s organisation in northern Syria, which includes eight women’s centres, in addition to children’s centres and Mazaya mag­azine. The women’s centres provide awareness, vocational, and educational courses, as well as mental support courses.

‘Like other Syrian mothers, my son Khaled was killed, my children travelled, and my house became empty. After that, my brother was killed, and my sister, the co-founder of Mazaya, travelled. But none of this stopped me.

‘I think a woman’s goals have no limits. She has big dreams. Mazaya’s goal is to increase awareness that women are no longer a burden, but a supporter. My biggest hope is to see more women holding jobs and having an impact on society.

‘Women faced major difficulties before the revolution. For example they were restricted to specific jobs, but during the revolution they had increased opportunities. Some women started working for civil society organisations, others in the field of relief, others in civil defence, others in health centres. They were involved in more professions.

‘Civil society organisations have to support women more because they are the ones who can build a modern Syria, from all the sects and religions. Women will build modern Syria in the coming phase as they can bring people together more than men.’

Liberated T have made two video interviews of Dr Amani Ballour; the first in February 2018 when Dr Ballour, a paediatrician, was director of a field hospital in the besieged Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus, where she managed tens of staff, most of them men.

A follow up in May came after Dr Ballour, along with over 65,000 other people from Eastern Ghouta, had been forcibly displaced to northern Syria.

Dr Amani Ballour:

‘My name is Amani Ballour. I graduated from the Faculty of Med­icine at Damascus University at the end of 2012.

‘Of course by then, the revolution had already started. When violence erupted against Al-Ghouta, and against the people of Al-Ghouta, when the shelling and daily killings started, I chose to stay in Al-Ghouta. There were a lot of wounded here every day, and patients needing doctors.

‘I started working in this hospital and in other centres. The hospital was at a small field focal point, and it wasn’t even equipped properly. Working conditions were extremely difficult. Today, this hospital here has become a big hospital, and a sort of central hospital in the district. It carries the burden of the whole district, and it is one of the most important hospitals here.

‘I hear a lot of criticism from people here, for example, “Why is a woman is in charge of the hospital, don’t we have male doctors?” They say this openly. “Why don’t male doctors handle hospital management?” In my opinion, we can change this reality. Our society sees things from a particular perspective, and it will always be this way if we remain scared, staying home and subject to the decisions made by our society. These decisions are mostly illogical.

‘Women should be able to participate in all fields. Women in Al-Ghouta are the majority. Their numbers exceed those of men. They sacrificed and suffered more than men for the revolution.

‘On the personal level, I hope to obtain a specialisation diploma. I am now working as a paediatrician. I have been working for the last five years as a paediatrician, although I do not have a specialisation in this field. So I dream to have this diploma, because after the revolution all the work we have done, and all the experience we have gained, might not be recognised by anyone since we do not have such a diploma.’

Dr Amani Ballour, three months later:

‘Of course, Ghouta was besieged and bombarded a lot, but the escalation of attacks we suffered from during the last month and a half or so was unprecedented. Even the weapons used were different; they were capable of even more destruction.

‘They were able to drive us out from Ghouta just like that? From our homes, memories and lives? So in addition to the injustice we suffered, we were subject to an even worse kind of injustice after all these years, which is being expelled just like that, to leave everything behind. What gives them the right to do that?

‘I am thinking about continuing to study. I don’t know what to say to you. I no longer have much will to live and to continue studying, but at the end of the day having a diploma and learning is necessary.

‘We still have many weapons we haven’t used. In my opinion the revolution has gone back on the track it was supposed to be on in the first place. At the end of the day, the revolution is a thought, and we will use it in our struggle. The revolution was never about arms, and having armed revolutionaries. We did not want this war, it was imposed on us, but maybe now we are back on the right track.

‘When we first got out of Ghouta, I saw people living. We passed through the streets of Damascus, and people were living a few metres away from al-Ghouta, and children were playing, and they have the right to play and to go to school, but children of Ghouta did not have the right to play, to go out, breathe, or see anything.

To be honest, I discovered a world completely different to the world in al-Ghouta. Everything was different. Even here in the north, the situation is different: there are vast areas, and no siege—thank God there is no siege here—but perhaps the real revolution was in al-Ghouta.

‘Well, I love al-Ghouta a lot, and I have many memories there. It was very painful to be expelled, and until now I was not able to integrate in the society here. To be honest, we will study and work, God willing, and we will not be defeated. We will go back, but it needs time.’

Idlib Pocket
Holding on to the revolution in Syria’s northwest