“I do not regret anything; I would do the same again.” This is what Zein, one of the main figures in the film, Syria´s Rebellious Women, said when she was asked by the audience at a recent London showing of the documentary, writes Irene Belert.
Zein, as other women activists depicted in the film, still remain in the rebel-held part of Syria where everyday life is a constant and complicated challenge.
Four of the women represent that reality in Syria´s Rebellious Women, presented at the School of Oriental and Africa Studies (SOAS), University of London, on Friday 13 November by director Zaina Erhaim, Syrian project coordinator and trainer with the Institute of War & Peace Reporting (IWPR). The discussion, which Zein attended, was chaired by Martin Fletcher from The Times. Only two of the protagonists, Zein and Erhaim, could attend the event.
Syria´s Rebellious Women brings together four shorter films, made over 18 months in Aleppo, Syria. Erhaim shows how female activists are coping with Syria’s relentless conflict, amid frequent government bombing seeking to defeat opposition groups. It also depicts how, at the same time, the women are having to combat the male-dominated society’s deep-set notions about their place in that society.
These ‘traditions’ can include restrictions on dress and behaviour and also on women’s movement. The women are constantly exposed to the disapproval of their families. Undaunted, they keep working to achieve their common goals: helping fellow citizens and hoping to bring about government change.
Working as a paramedic in a field hospital close to Aleppo’s frontline, Waed records the march of events as the only female journalist in the region. Her family is long since gone, displaced in Turkey. Yet each time she returns to Aleppo from the field hospital Waed fears for colleagues or friends who may have been injured or killed in bombing or other manifestations of violence in the area.
Another protagonist, Ahed, was at the front of demonstrations in Aleppo, against both Islamic State and the government. She faced humiliation and incomprehension from both sides but, undeterred, she continues to help people who suffer injury, displacement and poverty.
Ghali, on the other hand, aims to become a politician, in her own hometown, in Idlib province, northwestern Syria. She has been encouraging local woman to learn practical skills and become independent. She is committed to empowering the women to improve their lives. Several centres providing vocational training for women attest to her pursuit of that aim. As a result, Ghalia has faced repeated attacks from the conservative side of her community that disapproves of women leaving their homes to participate in public life.
Zein works as a paramedic and teaches in a school in Dar Shifaa, Aleppo. She was in a government prison for 14 months where she was tortured. When she went back to her town, she found her home destroyed and her family displaced. Her part of the documentary depicts the real face of the conflict in bloodcurdling detail.
While precise figures of fatalities and displacement after more than four years of armed conflict remain moot, according to UN and other data, at least 250,000 Syrians are said to have lost their lives and more than 11 million others have been forced from their homes. The challenge for campaigners such as those depicted in Syria´s Rebellious Women is to maintain some sort of continuity, especially in the education of children. Like many other groups, the campaigning women have also been doing relief work and educational support in their local areas.
“Children are willing to go to school but their parents do not allow them to leave their house. Parents are so scared not because children might be killed, which may happen at their houses, but they want to be make sure they either survive or die together.” This is a common thought among the parents.
The films were made with support from the US Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour.