SABBARA

Art to empower Syrian Women

The situation of Syrian women- Optimism and Pessimism

Itab Azzam

Lets start by talking about where the optimism lies when it comes to the situation of Syrian women. And I am just going to draw on my own experiences of working with women in Jordan, Lebanon and across Europe

Personally I have noticed that in a lot of cases the uprising have eased some of the pressure on women and girls to submit to conservative old fashioned values. For lots of Syrian women, the difficulty of life as a refugee has resulted in psychological and economic empowerment. 

The story I want to tell is the story of Nisreen.

I have been filming and spending time with her and her family for two and half years now. I first met her in turkey where she was extremely shy and barely said a word to strangers like us. But as we followed the family across Europe, she started slowly to open up. At the Serbian/Croatian border while it was raining, cold, so muddy and filthy, she looks at me and says. “I don’t care about all of this hardship, this is freedom for me”

This was one of the most traumatic days of my life and certainly of the lives of everyone around us.  But even at that moment Nisreen saw another side to the situation.  This journey had provided her with freedom beyond her wildest dreams. Before she left home, she told me she had spent 3 months at home not allowed to even visit her family.  The war played its part in that story, but it was part of a wider narrative of repression by the society in which she lived, which she perceived as a prison.

I saw her in Germany 2 months ago. She has started German lessons; she goes out on her own. She stands up to her husband. She said to me. “I finally feel I am a human being not an animal. Thank God for the uprising”

Nisreen’s case is not unique. lots women have made it to Europe and a lot of them feel the same. They feel protected and they have finally found their voices. The cases of divorce among Syrian women in Germany are high. Women are no longer happy to live with husbands who oppress or abuse them. 

The situation is different closer to home, but there are reasons for optimism there too.
For some Syrian women living in Lebanon and Jordan, difficult economic circumstances have pushed them to take on more responsibilities within their families. Lots of women have been exposed to programs promoting women’s rights organised by different NGOS have helped them achieve a level of independence and freedom that they never experienced in Syria.  And this resulting empowerment could prove a catalyst for real change and peace building in Syria. 

Pessimism

Of course these are the glimmers of hope in what is in other respects often a precarious life for refugee women. There is still a huge amount of work to be done.

In The Bekaa valley women who dot have any male members are regularly harassed and forced into marrying much older men. Girls are often followed on the streets, abused, which can have the knock-on effect of forcing them to leave school and stay at home and in a lot of cases forces the into early marriages. Rates of child marriage among refugees have almost doubled since the start of the war and that is because of the increase of poverty.  

Despite the difficulties, in my opinion the conflict in Syria is a crisis but also an opportunity for all of us to increase women’s participation in all sort of civil society related activities. This is a time where women are more open to work and there is an increasing awareness of women’s rights and we need to harness that. 

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Giving my children an education..

Itab Azzam
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MONA

I am 25 years old and come from Douma in the suburbs of Damascus. I have two little children Salim and Sima. Before the uprising I had spent 10 years building and decorating my home, but I only lived in it for five months before I was forced to flee - the shelling and air bombardment were too intense. I left with my husband and my children to a safer area with literally nothing. In the new place we struggled to earn our living and my children couldn't go to school. 

God sent us luck and I met the team from Sabbara, they taught me embroidery and gave me a job. Since I have started working with them I have managed to pay the rent, buy a carpet, blankets, fridge and most importantly send my kids to school.  I work as hard as possible and on days where my husband doesn't find work in construction he embroiders with me (I think he is loving it).  Working with Sabbara is the only way we could survive, but that is not all, it helps me to be creative, I love working with so many colours. It has boosted my confidence and my husband has new respect for me.

Work gave me confidence

Itab Azzam
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MAYSSAM

I am 20 years old from Deir al-Zour,  I was forced to flee my home and abandon my dreams of going to university.  When I first moved to Damascus I was depressed and spent most of my time at home watching TV until I came across Sabbara.

I started working hard and with the money I earned, I managed to enrol myself in a course at the Open University in Damascus and pay for my education.

I am naturally creative and love to make my own designs. I also teach other women and mentor them.

I have never been so confident in myself and in my ability to play a positive role in society. Sabbara has helped me grow stronger and I am so happy that I can study without having to burden my parents”

Better future for my girls

Itab Azzam
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 TAHANI

In Syria I lived with an abusive husband that who once put me into in an intensive care. Since I started working with Sabbara I have become an independent strong woman.  Earning my own living has made me able to stand up to my husband. I am now the only bread winner in the family. I send my two daughters to school and I will insist that they go to university so they can enjoy a life better than the one I had; no early marriage for them.  

Work helped me with my psychological problems

Itab Azzam
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FATIMA

I am a fifty-year old woman from Homs and, for most of the time since the battle for our home town, I suffered from extreme PTSD. I developed phobias that were completely debilitating (fears of heights above ground level, fear of strangers). Since I started working with Sabbara, my phobias have decreased beyond what I ever could have expected. The work has provided me with an outlet for my feelings and fills that void has always dragged me into a cycle of fear. Working has been better than any medication I could have been taken. Sometimes my enthusiasm means I produce so much that Sabbara struggles to cope with the supply. Whenever I wake up at night with any kind of fear, I start to embroider until it goes away.