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Syrian feminists pave their way despite social and political turmoil

Along with the changing and developing societies, the concept of political, intellectual and economic rights for women has also evolved. However, what has not changed is our view of what is essentially woman, what is traditionally feminine in nurturance and beauty.

In recent years, feminist movements came into prominence in the Arab world, taking advantage of the level of openness to other cultures through media and the internet, which resulted in relative progress that was unfortunately marred by political turmoil and complex social and cultural beliefs.

Before the Arab Spring, Arab feminists were used and exploited politically, as was the case with the General Union of Syrian Women, which was established in 1967, and was turned into an affiliate of the regime’s, adopting and representing its views and yet has been unable for 50 years to pass one law for women’s rights until its dissolution in 2017.

The Syrian Women’s Political Movement, which was established in 2017, was able to make its voice heard with the utmost responsibility and civility, presenting a clear message that called for pluralism and justice, and the participation and leadership of women in various fields. However, this apparent progress gave rise to a phenomenon of “feminists” who appeared on the media using obscene language to defend just causes, which resulted in a backlash in social circles. It is rather difficult for women in Syria to relate to those who define themselves along a European brand of feminism, using explicit sexual speech aimed at breaking the norm through shocking its audience.

Some women may think that their large following on Social Media is an indication that they have achieved an expansive reach. The truth is that many of the stars of these platforms are a lot of the time practicing ethical and legal violations. In Europe, sexual freedoms are non-negotiable, but indecent exposure, whether by a man or a woman, will be met with a ban by the police. That is to say, you can exercise your rights as long as you are not encroaching on other people’s rights.

If Syrian or Arab feminism seeks to promote a culture of openness and to fight repression, then perhaps they should seek to educate men and welcome their help instead of treating them as the enemy, as is the case nowadays.

European feminists have struggled for women's rights since British writer Mary Wollstonecraft advocated for a vindication of these rights some 220 years ago. A century and a half later, they eventually got the right to vote in France in 1944, Italy in 1946, Greece in 1952, and Switzerland in 1971, reaching the highest political positions in Britain and Germany, a lead that the US is yet to follow. This only shows that the struggle continues, and that Western society still has in it a “medieval” streak that needs to be uprooted.

Some may be surprised by the fact that the first Arab women to obtain the right to vote were Lebanese and Syrian women in 1952 and 1953 respectively, even before “civilized” Switzerland. However, this victory for Arab women failed to achieve its objectives because of the political, social and cultural obstacles at the time.

Seventy years later, Syrian women today are still victims of an oppressive political power that strengthened the domination of a traditional religious patriarchal society, who themselves are the grandchildren of Zenobia, the queen of Palmyra, and Wallada bint Al-Mustakfi, who declared, “I am fit for high positions by God and am going my way with pride. I allow my lover to touch my cheek and bestow my kiss on him who craves it.”

Zaman Al Wasl- Ali Eid
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