Qamishli: Rare models for women’s economic empowerment

By the Syrian Echoes “Stories from the ground” editorial team, based on a case study from the paper “Women’s Participation in Syrian Cities Today: Emerging Roles and Opportunities” prepared in the context of a project funded by the European Union. The complete paper is featured in the Publications section (link to the Publication).

Back in 2011, the women’s civil organizations in Qamishli were the first to become organized with a noticeably large contingent of women in the political arena. Many laws related to women were passed. All this culminated in a change in social awareness and the advancement of women’s rights and their effective participation in the political and military arenas. However, local customs still restrict employment and career opportunities for women. This story from the ground features ongoing efforts to boost women’s economic participation, taking the reader to Syria’s Qamishli where, in spite of risks of social stigma, women are looking to become more active in the labour market. This is not to say that their desire for economic empowerment has been greeted with open arms. On the contrary, the aim is to highlight the efforts of local activists who are continuing in the struggle for gender equality.

One of the case studies in the paper “Women’s Participation in Syrian Cities Today: Emerging Roles and Opportunities” sheds light on ongoing efforts in this direction put in place by the Shar Organization. In this piece, “Stories from the ground” selected highlights from the case study to stress the value that efforts for women’s economic empowerment can provide, and indeed are already providing.

The Moutasharikoun project (Arabic for “United”) was conducted by Shar, a civil society organization working in the development sector and a strong advocate for young women. The project in the paper is described by the organization’s management team:

  The project aims at addressing women’s quests and their participation in political, economic and social life […] It has been implemented in three stages[1]:

1.It works towards replacing the perception of men as rivals with that of men as supporters and partners. This is done through joint trainings and dialogue workshops for both men and women that address the issue of violence against women, especially sexual violence since most victims of sexual violence are women and youth. Discussions address different cases of sexual violence, and serve to create a database about women and young people that have been exposed to sexual violence in the eastern part of Qamishli. The database in turn will help lay the foundations for a center for abused women[2].

2.It introduces, through training workshops, concepts supportive of women’s empowerment and related to political participation, quotas, gender and economic empowerment. The introduction of such concepts has been accompanied by educational campaigns for women, and discussions have been organized about laws that have been proposed by the Democratic Autonomous Administration (DAA) that directly concern women. Discussions mainly focus on new proposals that contradict prevailing social customs in Qamishli, such as issues related to inheritance and divorce.

3.It focuses on ​​women’s economic empowerment and their participation in the labor market, through trainings for professions that do not require physical effort (such as laptop and mobile phone maintenance). These professions are relatively new to women in Qamishli, as they have traditionally been occupied by men. Over the course of three months, the project will target 60 women from both the local community and women that have newly arrived. A grant of $1000 will finally be given to a selected group of women to support their participation in the labour market.

The advantages of this project lie in the idea of ​​empowering women in a gradual and progressive way, from awareness raising through training sessions, to advocacy empowerment through discussions, to economic empowerment exemplified by the trainings on the maintenance of mobile phones and laptops.

At the same time, the project will require a plan to face the social attitudes and expectations in terms of women’s roles. For instance, regular citizens’ disapproval of or lack of trust in women working in the city’s market affect women’s economic integration. Addressing these challenges will require the involvement and support of all parties and leading figures in the society that are combating traditional gender roles.

(Source: “Women’s Participation in Syrian Cities Today: Emerging Roles and Opportunities”)

 

 

The case study also features statements from Rojin Hbbo, director of the Shar Women’s Project and an advocate for increasing women’s involvement in government and management positions:

  Rojin explains that she sought to integrate women into professions that correspond to the changing circumstances in the city and to the labor market needs. She is appreciative of the advocacy mechanisms that supported her efforts, stressing that “the tendency of the majority of organizations to target women recently has been helpful in easing the obstacles faced by the project.”[3] More generally, the openness of Qamishli to civil society organizations facilitated Rojin’s leadership role within her organization; enabling her to raise questions on women’s involvement in government and management affairs within her community. This was done through a number of projects that advocate women socially, politically and economically, such as the project “Haq wa Wajib” (Right and Obligation), where she worked on developing a manual on the legal framework in the DAA, and made comments on the proposed laws that concern women. Rojin also moderated dialogue sessions on topics related to gender mainstreaming[4], the role of women in elections, honor killings and violence against women, as well as on women’s mobilization and advocacy[5].

(Source: “Women’s Participation in Syrian Cities Today: Emerging Roles and Opportunities”)

 

 

The case study points to the question of economic participation in a city where the Democratic Autonomous Administration achieved women’s advancements in the political arena. It reports on the challenges faced by women seeking employment, featuring statements from some of the project’s beneficiaries and suggesting ways forward:

  The overall challenges facing “Moutasharikoun” and Rojin, both as a human rights and civil activist, are mainly related to the fact that there are existing, predominant perceptions in society about what male and female roles ought to be. The role that Rojin is seeking to take on is generally perceived as a role for a man, not a woman. Moreover, challenges do not only face the management team and the women involved, but also the beneficiaries of the project.

Rola, one of the “Moutasharikoun” beneficiaries, and a 25-year-old resident of the city of Qamishli, was forced to drop out of school due to the lack of financial resources. Rola participated in the project “Moutasharikoun” and sees in it an opportunity to satisfy her economic and social motives. She expresses that: “in terms of training, it could be on the one hand, a gateway to future jobs that help me become economically independent during the current crisis vis-à-vis the general rise of living costs. On the other hand it also allows me to live a daring new experience.”

Rola explains that she faces social pressure as she pursues her future professional ambitions, and that without her confidence in her ability, she would not have been able to proceed: “there is no natural law that prevents women from practicing a profession that does not require physical work, such as the maintenance of laptops and mobile phones. However, community laws that measure women’s capability for these professions as per male standards, undermines the participation of women in the Qamishli labor market.”[6]

To put it in Rola’s words, this study shows that “the essence of the idea of ​​empowering women economically lies not only in offering them training and financial support, but also in women’s ability to break traditional chains and to confront the stark societal stance that opposes all that is new in the process of women’s self-assertion outside community-imposed social roles[7].

(Source: “Women’s Participation in Syrian Cities Today: Emerging Roles and Opportunities”)

 

 

Positive models, such as the Moutasharikoun project, try to break, one step at a time, norms informed by gender stereotypes limiting women’s participation in the labour market. The referenced paper includes three other case studies provided by local researchers from different Syrian cities, including Atareb, Damascus, Douma and Homs on various experiences of women’s participation in the public sphere of Syrian cities, with regard to governance and productive work.

 

 

[1] Interview with Rojin Hbbo at the office of the Shar organization, conducted in February 2017.

[2] The idea of opening a center for battered women was postponed due to the lack of financial support.

[3] Interview at the office of the Shar organization in Qamishli, 27/2/2017.

[4] Gender mainstreaming is used here to translate a phrase in Arabic that would literally mean “dissemination of gender culture”.

[5] See http://sormey.com/?p=479.

[6] Interview at the office of the Shar organization in Qamishli, March 2017.

[7] Interview at the office of the Shar organization in Qamishli, March 2017.

 

 

 

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