The Syrian revolution has drawn attention to the key role women play in the political and media landscape, just as it has highlighted their civic engagement both inside and outside of the country. But there is still a side not seen in the media, though one no less important – women’s strength and resilience, and their contribution to the resilience and stability of the entire revolution.
Wadiha Talib Hariri is a woman whose story resembles that of thousands of other Syrians. The 75-year-old never even graduated from university, let alone hold seminars to discuss the social or economic aspects of the revolution. Instead, she resolutely chose to remain on the soil of her land, between the walls of her home, and play her part in the revolution.
Wadiha tried the “torment of asylum” for a few weeks in Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp, before returning to Daraa carrying the slogan, “Death, not humiliation.” At a time when hundreds of thousands of Syrian men and youths were choosing asylum abroad, Wadiha steadfastly remained in Daraa.
The elderly woman settled into in her home in the village of al-Soura in the countryside of eastern Daraa – a town that, like others near it, had felt the scourge of bombing from the 52nd Brigade, which claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians over five years until opposition forces wrested control of the base in a battle last June that lasted no more than a day.
Right as the battle ended, the troops were surprised to see a septuagenarian woman, dressed in the famous Hourani style, weaving her way among the armored vehicles carrying “Daraa relief” to share with fighters celebrating the liberation. Hissam Abu Talib, one of the opposition figures who took part in the battle, recalled that “as regime warplanes were flying overhead and the shelling hadn’t stopped, Mother Wadiha came into view, offering a huge morale boost. As she darted among us passing out sweets, she reminded us that this battle was on her behalf, and for all those like her.”
Photographers managed to capture the scene of Mother Wadiha roaming between tanks dispensing “Hourani comfort” among the fighters, and she was later described in the press as “a woman who embodies the revolution.” It was said she was “the woman who stood side-by-side with fighters in battles for liberation,” and Wadiha ultimately became something of an “icon” for the women of rebellious Daraa.
However this icon had one final, dramatic chapter remaining in her life. Less than a week after the liberation of the 52nd Brigade base, warplanes helmed by Assad’s forces launched a raid on the village of al-Soura, targeting civilian homes, with Mother Wahida’s among them. She became the debris of just another bomb, now remembered as “the martyr Wadiha Talib Hariri.”
This story resembles hundreds of others, as statistics from the office of “martyr archives” in Daraa reveal: more than 1009 women were killed between the middle of March 2011 and the end of August 2016. Statistics show that artillery and rocket fire caused the deaths of 459 women, while air attacks killed another 292. Assad’s forces and allied militias carried out executions of 35 women, and local statistics indicate that more than 220 women from Daraa province have been detained in regime prisons.