Um Samir, a 43 years old woman, from Harabesh neighborhood in Deir ez-Zor, is keen on building her world from scratch, despite the difficulties formed by the absence of her husband and the loss of a body part in one of the “Islamic State’s” (ISIS) mortar shells.
“I am an ordinary woman, who is trying to live with her children just like the rest of the women in the area,” she describes her life, thus, refusing to be an exception, through working as a real estate agent.
Um Samir preferred self-employment to distance herself from men’s hegemony and to preserve a space of independence and liberty. In her interview with Enab Baladi, she presented her futuristic wishes, for she wants to own a series of assets and to enter the construction field.
The War’s Positive Dimensions
Both the war’s and the siege’s repercussions did not affect the lives of Deair ez-Zor’s women in a holistic negative manner; they had some positive effects, such as empowering many of these women, who lost their breadwinners and started depending on their energy to enter a number of fields, which previously were men only domains.
“In ordinary conditions, I might have turned into an ordinary consuming girl, waiting to finish studying to get married,” said Abeer (22 years old young woman), who is trying to continue her college life and manage her financial situation through repairing electric devices, cellphones and simple electrical installations for her women neighbors.
“If my family sees me doing this, they would be shocked and would not believe it,” Abeer describes the reaction of her family, which she lost in the bombardment that targeted one of the city’s neighborhoods, to survive with her grandmother alone.
Abeer, after owning a “simple tool kit”, dreams of opening her own repairs shop in the future, allocated for the help of women only. “A society where women do not have all their rights and freedom is a hypocritical one,” she concluded.
Obstacles So Far in the Way
“Look what war have done to us, we went centuries back in time,” said Um Hussam (56 years old) from al-Qusoor neighborhood, explaining that it is a shame to speak about women’s work in 2018, for war has changed human rights into a topic for discussion. These rights relate to people as human beings, regardless of their location, gender, ethnicity and color. They are not a favor.
For 30 years in Deir ez-Zor, Um Hussam has been doing translations for university students and offices, in addition to private lessons to help her family and make extra money, pointing out that in time she gained experience and power to face the patriarchal society; it also helped her express her thoughts and move in liberty.
The teacher denies the development of the women’s reality in the Eastern area, for she is yet facing troubles, including verbal abuse at least.
The teacher refuses to compare this with what is happening in other areas of rural Deir ez-Zor, for her area have always, and ordinarily received, women engineers, doctors, school principals and teachers. “Today, however, we can hear certain [people] being appalled even by women’s ability to talk.”
The atmosphere inside the city helped in preserving some of the women’s rights, in contradiction to the circumstances witnessed by the other areas; “we were not subjected to humiliation or repression, which happened in the area’s under ISIS, where women lost all their rights and went back to the time of concubines and bondmaids,” said the teacher.
Deir ez-zor’s displaced people living in other governorates and other areas that are more civilized and open helped women in integrating more efficiently into society, according to the teacher. They managed to enter the labor market and to break some of the shackles and traditions that were hindering their movement and effectiveness.
The Effect of ISIS
As for the situation in rural Deir ez-Zor, Um Hussam said that “the rural women are trying to get back to their former life and habits, a way from ISIS rulings which used to prevent them even from breathing.”
Nevertheless, according to her, this did not prevent the men’s voices objection to women’s liberation there, for both Niqāb and Khimar are still spread. They are also facing subjugation that sometimes reaches the point of banning them from leaving the house or going to work, despite the control of the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF) and its tendency to encourage women’s work.
Suleiman al-Saud, 22 years old activist from the city of Deir ez-Zor and based in the Turkish city of Urfa, confirms the truth about Um Hussam’s comments, believing that the phase through which ISIS controlled the area and spread its ideas has clearly affected adolescents, young men and adults, telling Enab Baladi that “most of the people affected by ISIS’ ideas were men, because they were closer and more interactive with it, the impact of which was lesser in case of women.”
ISIS, which fought all woman’s rights, according to the activist, has created a social gap between the current reality and ISIS’ prevailing ideas, in addition to the eastern woman’s general suffering, including male dominance and a society that does not trigger women to demand their entire rights.
Despite the distinct women-based action in the past a few years, the situation is yet deteriorating and the scene is bleak, as he described it, saying that “Deir ez-Zor’s women still have a long way to walk as to get their rights and to work effectively with all their energy and capability.”
Al-Saud views the successful stories in Deir ez-Zor as a proof for recovery, but, in themselves, they are not enough to form a social state; “we are in front of individual experiences that are trying to break the fetters of society and traditions. They might succeed in creating idols, but they need time and support to socially mature and become an established custom and stop being a limited breach of society.”
According to most of the people who Enab Baladi has interviewed, both women and activists, believe that unless the area reaches a certain level of social stability, the dreams of these women will be hostages to the war’s conditions.