Rita (Pseudonym)

Women's rights activist

I define myself as a young woman who became tired of wasting her energy criticizing the lived reality and decided to use it to make a simple change in her surroundings on the Syrian coast. Having become aware of the needs of women and young girls in the Syrian coastal countryside, I decided to become an activist and advocate for women’s rights by participating in local initiatives that provide economic and social support to women. 

Within a volunteer team, I was supervising women’s economic empowerment and following up on a plan to raise awareness about issues related to gender-based violence. In addition, my responsibilities included assisting any woman who encountered a problem outside the scope of our work and attempting to connect her with someone who could assist her.

After the earthquake, my role shifted from enabler to relief worker, and I continued to raise awareness and adjust the content provided to reflect the current situation.

In the days following the earthquake, I used my extensive network of relationships and acquaintances to connect those who provide services with those who require them, whether in individual or collective cases, and we followed up them until we were certain that their vital needs were met.

I also worked with a volunteer team on psychological awareness, assisting women in releasing their trauma from what happened and providing advice on how to deal with their surroundings and children in these cases, and we are still doing so.

The earthquake shook our coastal region, but it caused no harm to people or the economy. The women responded by raising funds for the affected areas. She also noticed something new, which is that they are acknowledging the psychological impact of the events that occurred rather than ignoring or hiding it, as it has created a new state of fear for their safety and the safety of their children. And many of them are now suffering from sleep problems and the constant replay of events more intensely than the men who have returned to a more normal life.

In terms of my digital environment, I observed a positive feminist solidarity in terms of issues of relief and awareness of unmet women’s needs, as well as a negative one in terms of the randomness of the response and its disregard for women’s privacy in various contexts, including within Syria. For example, I observed that rash solutions were proposed without consulting women. Some solutions to the problem of harassment in shelters have been proposed, such as separating families into men and women or hiring security personnel in the centers, despite the fact that security forces are known to abuse their power against women.

I have a set of calls that vary according to my experience and the context in which I work, and they are as follows: 

  • I urge women’s organizations in Syria to begin dialogue and coordination as soon as possible in order to find solutions, or proposals for solutions, to the problems that women who have lost their homes face, such as harassment or abuse.
  • Support local digital feminist initiatives to avoid opening up the digital arena to ill-conceived campaigns that could exacerbate problems.
  • Support communication on the ground with stakeholders in tandem with the digital presence to ensure the safety of women in distress.
  • Women should be consulted at all stages of the response, rather than generalizing suggestions and recommendations that do not take the context and women’s wishes into account.
  • Protecting relief workers. Previous experiences have put women at risk of security prosecution as a result of their activities, which should not happen again considering the enormous humanitarian need.
  • Keeping track of international aid and ensuring women’s access to it