Women make up half of Syria's population, yet they are often invisible in the political discussions taking place since the conflict began. Now, mothers, wives and daughters are increasingly becoming weapons of war on the frontline of the battle between government forces and the opposition. Although Syrian women have always been able to join the armed forces, recently there has been an influx of women joining Syria's National Defence Force.
DAMASCUS (February 24, 2013) -- Women make up half of Syria's population, yet they are often invisible in the political and media discussions taking place since the conflict began two years ago.
Now, mothers, wives and daughters are increasingly becoming weapons of war on the frontline of the battle between government forces and the opposition.
Although Syrian women have always been able to join the armed forces, recently there has been an influx of women joining the National Defence Force, which is similar to a reserve army.
Several reports say President Bashar al-Assad has recruited more women to guard checkpoints in an attempt to make up for defections and casualties in his declining army. The reports say up to 500 women have been drafted into the new paramilitary force known as the 'Lionesses for National Defence'.
They form part of the recently formed 10,000 strong National Defence Force -- an important part of al-Assad's counter-insurgency strategy, as the president desperately tries to regain control of the country's towns and cities. Part of their role is to carry out security checks of veiled women.
Women have played a marginal role in Syria’s opposition groups, and a number of them have been active in the 23-month-old uprising.
As with previous wars, the weapon of sexual violence has also been prevalent in Syria. A report by the International Rescue Committee at the start of the year said rape is a "significant and disturbing" feature of this war.
The agency said women and girls cited sexual violence as their main reason for fleeing from Syria. The report also documented women and girls being attacked in public and in their homes, primarily by armed men.
So, what is the role of women in the Syrian conflict?
To discuss this, Inside Syria with presenter Hazem Sika, is joined by guests: Afra Jalabi, a member of the Syrian National Coalition; Aida Dalati, a Syrian-American activist and author; and Hanadi Assoud, a member of Hands Off Syria, a group of Syrians who support the government and defy any foreign intervention in the country.
Also on the show this week, Syria's opposition coalition said it is making a stand against what it called the international silence over continuing atrocities; it has turned down invitations from Russia and the US to discuss the conflict.
Last Sunday, Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations and Arab league envoy to Syria, called for talks between the Syrian government and the opposition.
Brahimi welcomed Syrian opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib's offer to meet senior members of the government not involved in the violence, saying the talks could open the door to a peaceful solution.
On Wednesday, in the first direct talks on Syria between Russia and the Arab League, the two agreed to work together to try to bring Syria’s government and the opposition to the negotiating table. But the violence on the ground has continued unabated, with multiple explosions rocking Damascus on Thursday and Friday.
The UN has said that the behaviour of the Syrian government and opposition fighters is becoming more radical. A report compiled by an independent team for the UN says Syrian government forces have committed rape, torture and enforced disappearances.
It says the military, as well as pro-government militia, are employing a strategy of "terrorising" civilian populations. And it alleges anti-government fighters have committed similar atrocities, though not on the same scale.
"If there are terrorists, it is this regime that has been bent on killing and terrorising its population. And I'm sorry, women have not been doing well. The Syrian regime has allowed honour killings and sometimes even rewarded men who have been marginalising women over the last 40 years. A macho state -- a state that is run by security and the military -- is no feminist state, is not an egalitarian state."
-- Afra Jalabi, Syrian National Coalition
"Syria has got a very great history, it has always been known as a culture that is open-minded to women. We have almost equal rights there. If you want to know about the concerns of women in Syria, they are very worried about all the minorities, about these fundamentalists taking over, and worried about the damage they could do to the status of women."
-- Hanadi Assoud, member of Hands Off Syria
"There is a lot going on. There is systematic rape, and if you survive that then you get shot. And if you survive that then you lose a limb. It's a traumatic evolvement of events and I don't understand what's going on. What's going on with women all across the world ... This is not acceptable; this is rape on the way to genocide."
-- Aida Dalati, activist and author
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