The image of Syria in the Western media is an overwhelmingly masculine one. We see bearded men of the oppositional rebel forces carrying guns and fighting. The entire crisis has been simplified to an armed rebellion led by extremist oppositional figure and regime forces. The civil uprising no longer exists. Women are often depicted as the passive victims of this conflict.
These assumptions are wrong. Aisha (not her real name) is from central Syria and is a committed activist, who believes that freedom, dignity and rights cannot be killed or destroyed, regardless of what the Assad's regime does. As well as, being a prominent activist and citizen journalist, her voice is important because it represents the forgotten voice of the Syrian revolution. She reminds us that while there is an armed uprising, there is still civilian opposition.
Q: What role do female activists continue to play?
Aisha: "Women play a diverse and critical role in the struggle. We are active mainly in civil oppositional activities, which include blogging, reporting, protesting, assisting and helping the local communities in which we live. In many local oppositional committees, women are important organisers of events and in some cases help to form some of the leadership roles."
Q: What are the female activists' relationships like with the rebels?
Aisha: "Women like all Syrians have mixed relations with the rebels. Not many, but some women have joined the rebels; there are female snipers in the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Others assist the rebels in other ways, when the armed rebellion began, it was women who would go and collect information on the movements and positions of Assad's forces. Even now, when rebels liberate a village or town it's women who take them into their homes and treat their injures and feed them. This happened recently in the Christian town of Maaloula- when the rebels entered the town they told the locals, that they weren't the target, the regime was. And the local nuns invited the rebels into the church and feed and clothed them. Of course the regime later lied about what happened there."
Q: But aren't some of the rebels' violent extremists who will oppress women? Aren't you worried about the effects of violence?
Aisha: "Okay, fine. Some factions of the rebels like Islamic State in the Levant and Iraq (ISLI), but women activists have taken action against these groups. You know, in northern Syria there were towns were hard line Islamist affiliated groups took control off. And when they began imposing restrictions on women, the local women fought back and staged mass protests. The group had to back away from some of the measures because of it.
But you have to remember two things. Firstly, most oppositional groups including rebel groups are local. They are full of local guys, who fight for local issues, and women play an important role in those local committees. They cannot disregard what women want. Secondly, not all the opposition to the regime is militaristic. There is still an active civil opposition to the Assad regime. In many towns there are weekly protests against the regime still. Plus, it is not as if the regime can claim to be the protector of women's rights. They openly rape and imprison women ... in parts of Central Syria the regime soldiers look for Sunni women to kidnap and rape. Just before Homs fell to the regime a few months ago, Assad's forces kidnapped 100 women from neighbouring town and forced them to march ahead of the army as they entered oppositional areas. To get the opposition to surrender. They use this tactic. In some towns they get the women to strip naked and then march."
Q: What were your opinions on an American military strike?
Aisha: "Syrians are divided over this questions. Many Syrians supported the idea and held up signs in anti-regime protests saying 'We are against the Syrian military intervention into Syria.' Others were against. For me it depends on their intentions. But now they have cut a deal with the regime, it is clear they do not care about the Syrian people".