I want to start by talking about Asmaa (pictured above). I met her in Jordan, five days after she had been released from a regime prison. She is the fiancée of Abdul Razak Tlass, who was the first officer to defect from the Syrian army when the revolution began. She was captured transporting a Kalashnikov in her bag after a tip-off. She told me about how she was interrogated, made to stand up without break for hours on end and deprived of sleep, but nothing they did could get her to give the names of who she had been working with. When you see her eyes you understand immediately how much she suffered. I know she wasn’t telling me the full story of what happened to her. Considering the fact that the use of sexual violence by the regime is not unknown, I have the suspicion that something like this happened to her. When you look in her eyes as she talks about her experience it is clear that terrible things were done to her. A part of her soul died in that prison.
But something very interesting came out of my talking to her, she was in a cell with nine other Syrian women, all different religions, Sunni, Shia, Alawite, Druze and Christian. They all came to love each other during their time in captivity and it is one of the reasons why she believes that the people of Syria can be united in the future and is something she feels very strongly about. So many in the West, when they look at Syria, think that the people are hopelessly divided and all want to kill each other along religious lines. Women like Asmaa, who despite all they have suffered, demonstrate that this is not the case.
She was only released from prison after thirteen months because the FSA swapped prisoners in order to get her out. Now she is in the relative safety of Jordan and working to help her fellow Syrians as best she can.
One of the things I noticed about Syrian women in general is how strong and resilient they are. In the refugee camps, despite losing so much, they continue their lives in the best way they can, they cook and look after their families. Yes their standard of living is very much reduced, but they continue. Compare this with many of the men I saw who were in the refugee camps, who have lost their work, there is nothing for them to do, so they just sit around in groups with other men, drinking tea and smoking. Psychologically I would say that the women handle the situation better. They have something to do, the men on the other hand do not, and as a result end up looking very lost and feeling quite useless.
On the surface Syria is very much a male dominated society but under the surface the women have a lot of influence. All Syrian men will tell you how strong the women are, never mess with a Syrian women, they half jokingly tell me. To be honest I don’t know how they keep going, the women, men and children but then again it isn’t as if they have much choice. They have become the victims of callous geo-political games with only power and influence as their objective. The governments of the world have proven that they are not fit for purpose. Why? Because they see the human suffering they cause as no more than collateral damage.