Women of Syria

 

Zaina Erhaim is an award- winning Syrian journalist and feminist working as a senior media specialist with the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR). Zaina received the first Annita Auspurg award: Rebel Woman For Peace By WILFP, named the journalist of the year by Reporters without Borders in 2015, one of the 100 Most Powerful Arab Women according to Arabian Business and the Unsung heroes of 2016 by Reuters Thomson.

In 2017 she launched “Liberated T”, a Syrian advocacy campaign that aims to change the negative gender stereotypes imposed mainly by our society on women, it focuses on the Syrian women’s stories, battles, and experiences.

Liberated T’s goals are to:

  • Engage women and women in discussions about gender roles, social suppression and stereotyping, women’s work, obstacles, struggle, and extra layers of suppression and difficulties, they face.
  • Help women and men to develop their tools to express their understanding of their gender roles, and what they are doing to impose the traditional harsh ones on themselves and others.
  • Raise topics regarding gender, women and misogyny in simple practical ways as topics of debate, and to produce and exchange content about them.
  • Form a virtual lobby for the women trying to engage in the Syrian public sphere, support others who got harassed or bullied and train on online and off-line campaigning methods to do so.
  • Advocate for the women taking leading (peaceful/not engaged in war) roles in Syria, for the rights of girls to go to schools, not to be formed into marriage, and to choose what they want to be.

Since then, the campaign has gone from strength to strength. Below are some of the incredibly inspiring stories of Syrian women living inside Syria and still working and helping out their communities in different ways.

Ghada Bakeer

Ghada Bakeer was a teacher before the revolution. Married to an abusive man, she was excluded from political participation. Today, she is still living in Syria and working to support her community.

Ghalia Rahhal

Ghalia Rahhal is the founder of “Mazaya” women’s organisation in Northern Syria which includes eight centres for women that provide awareness, and vocational and educational courses.

Eba Toma

Eba Toma is just 21 year olds, but she began working as a nurse during the revolution. Hear her story:

The Circle supports some of the world’s most disempowered women and girls. Find out more about our upcoming events here and how you can support us in our mission of equality for women and girls in a fairer world here.

#GlobalFeminism #WomenEmpoweringWomen


8 Inspiring Quotes by War Correspondent Marie Colvin

As part of The Circle’s month celebrating women in journalism, today we remember the incredible Marie Colvin, one of the bravest foreign correspondents of our time and a passionate advocate of women’s rights and influencing change.

If blinded in one eye by shrapnel, many journalists would consider a career change or at the very least avoid working on the front line. But Marie Colvin’s tenacious attitude and drive to give a voice to those caught in conflict helped her overcome her injury, which she sustained while reporting in Sri Lanka for The Sunday Times. The American-born reporter returned to the field donning a black eye patch to continue reporting on some of the world’s largest atrocities including 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza and the Arab Spring.

Known to plunge to the point of deepest conflict and remain there for longer than anyone else, Marie had been stranded on a 12,000-foot mountain in Chechnya after escaping Russian paratroopers, chased by a mob of around 100 men in Egypt, interviewed the infamous Colonel Gaddafi and Yasser Arafat and reported from some of the world’s most brutal conflict zones during her 25-year career for The Sunday Times. She sadly died in a rocket attack reporting the uprising in Syria in February 2012.

Risking her life over and over again, Marie Colvin was not only a courageous and tireless reporter across the world, she was also an incredible inspiration to women in her profession. In fact, her determination to portray the stories of in her own words “innocents” around the world and her passionate belief in the rights of women is what influenced the creation of The Marie Colvin Circle.

Marie took every opportunity to offer advice and mentoring to young female journalists just starting out, as well as being a well-loved friend to her fellow, experienced reporters.

Not long before Marie’s death, she was introduced to The Circle—so her friends Lyse Doucet, Lindsey Hilsum and Jane Wellesley wanted to commemorate Marie by setting up The Marie Colvin Circle, to continue her practical support for women producing quality, independent journalism.

To celebrate the life and work of Marie Colvin, we’ve rounded up our favourite inspirational quotes from the exceptionally brave, warm, intelligent and formidable woman the world grew to love.

1. “Simply: there’s no way to cover war properly without risk…”

“…Covering a war means going into places torn by chaos, destruction, death and pain, and trying to bear witness to that. I care about the experience of those most directly affected by war, those asked to fight and those who are just trying to survive. Going to these places, finding out what is happening, is the only way to get at the truth. Despite all the videos you see on television, what’s on the ground has remained remarkably the same for the past 100 years. Craters. Burnt houses. Women weeping for sons and daughters. Suffering. In my profession, there is no chance of unemployment. The real difficulty is having enough faith in humanity to believe that someone will care.”

The Sunday Times, 21 October 2001. Bravery is not being afraid to be afraid.

2. “These are not just numbers. I want to tell the stories of each person.”

2005, Bearing Witness documentary.

3. “Our mission is to speak the truth to power…”

“…We send home that first rough draft of history. We can and do make a difference in exposing the horrors of war and especially the atrocities that befall civilians.”

November 2010. A speech Marie gave on the importance of war reporting during a service for war wounded at St Bride’s church, London.

4. “Bravery is not being afraid to be afraid.”

A speech Marie gave when she accepted an award for her work in Sri Lanka.

5. “War reporting is still essentially the same—someone has to go there and see what is happening…”

“…You can’t get that information without going to places where people are being shot at, and others are shooting at you. The real difficulty is having enough faith in humanity to believe that enough people, be they government, military or the man on the street, will care when your file reaches the printed page, the website or the TV screen. We do have that faith because we believe we do make a difference.”

November 2010. A speech Marie gave on the importance of war reporting during a service for war wounded at St Bride’s church, London.

6. “When it stops mattering to me, I’ll stop doing it.”

2005, Bearing Witness documentary.

7. “These are people who have no voice…”

“…I feel I have a moral responsibility towards them, that it would be cowardly to ignore them. If journalists have a chance to save their lives, they should do so.”

Marie said in one of her BBC broadcasts in 1999 in East Timor, where she reported from a besieged compound containing 1,500 women and children. They were later freed after Marie’s broadcasts made international leaders put pressure on the Indonesian government to let them all go.

8. “Be passionate and be involved in what you believe in, and do it as thoroughly and honestly and fearlessly as you can.”

BBC, 22 February 2012. Her mother on Marie Colvin’s legacy.

 

The Marie Colvin Circle is currently running the Marie Colvin Journalists Network project, which provides a network for female journalists working in the Middle East and North Africa, to create a vibrant online community that provides practical support, mentoring and lively discussion.


Written by @shanhodge.
Shannon is a Journalism graduate and a volunteer at The Circle.

 


Chatterbox: The Social Enterprise Unlocking the Skills of Women Refugees

Patuni, founder Mursal’s mum and the inspiration behind Chatterbox. Photo credit: P. Hedayat.

Shannon Hodge, member of The Circle, meets the women behind Chatterbox, a charity employing refugees as language tutors

An estimated 117,234 refugees have resettled in the UK after fleeing their homes—and countries—due to fear of violence or persecution. Many are highly-qualified professionals who are forced to leave their families and careers—and finding a job here can be challenging.

Wajed Basha, an Arabic school teacher from Syria, has joined a growing number of newly-arrived degree-educated refugees that a new start-up, Chatterbox, has employed to use their language skills to not only benefit the UK’s language skills deficit, but to benefit them too.

Wajed, 31, fled war in Syria almost three years ago and now lives in Wales with her husband and two children, aged 7 and 9. She studied Education at Tishreen University in her hometown of Latakia, Syria, where she went on to work for eight years in primary education before being appointed as a pedagogue in the Educational Directorate in Latakia.

Following the uprising in Syria that descended into a country-wide civil war, over 4.5 million were forced to flee the country—Wajed and her family included.

“Almost three years ago, we fled the war in Syria. There were explosions, bombs and extremists everywhere”, she said.

“My husband came to the UK alone first to seek safety and then later, my children and I joined him by travelling through Lebanon, before arriving at Heathrow, where we were then resettled in Cardiff.”

Describing her initial few months in the UK, Wajed said “It was very difficult at first. I didn’t choose to live so far away from my country so it was hard adapting to a new place, new people, a different culture and, on top of that, a new language”.

This is where Chatterbox—a new language learning service delivered by refugees—comes in…

The London-based start-up works with skilled refugees to provide training, contacts and work experience in the languages sector and helps them rebuild their professional lives using their existing skills, while simultaneously tackling the UK’s language skills deficit, which loses the economy an estimated £48 billion each year.

The initiative is the brainchild of 26-year-old Economics graduate, Mursal Hedayat, who now employs more than thirty tutors; teaching languages from Arabic and Farsi to Swahili and Korean, both online and in person.

Mursal watched her own mother struggle as a refugee when her family fled Afghanistan when she was just four years old. A civil engineer by practice, her mother used her language skills to find meaningful employment in the UK, following her decade-long search for a job.


Founder Mursal with Syrian dentist and Chatterbox Arabic language tutor Eiad. Photo credit: Chatterbox.

“Despite knowing languages such as English, Dari, Hindi, Urdu, Farsi dialect and Pashto, as well as having a highly-trained skill in civil engineering, my mother could only get basic low-skilled work in the UK”, said Mursal.

“Eventually, after ten years of searching, she completed a qualification in teaching so that she could use her language skills to get a job as a classroom language assistant; helping students for whom English wasn’t their first language to access education.

“She then went on to set up a supplementary school to teach core curriculum subjects, as well as Afghan culture, to the Afghan community in the area of London we live in.”

Mursal’s mother’s experience was—and is—shared by many other talented people in the refugee community, and in August 2016 Mursal drew on this inspiration to launch Chatterbox.

“Chatterbox was distinctly designed for the situation of a refugee mother who is having employment troubles and for us it’s important to help these women access work.

“We’re currently over-represented by women, whereas, in other refugee interventions, they really struggle to get women and I think part of that is the flexibility of the work and training we provide, but also the cultural barriers that stop some women from seeking work.”

Wajed agrees with Mursal’s point: “For some female refugees in the UK, it is difficult for them to get the education they need. For me, it is fine—I am a free lady—but some women would like to attend English classes so they can go on to get a job but they can’t. This is because many services helping refugees have mixed-gender classes, which some Muslim women feel uncomfortable attending—or are simply not given permission by their husband.”

With the backing of the SOAS University of London, Chatterbox launched a pilot which ran from January 2017 to May 2017. The pilot was described as a “resounding success” by both students and tutors, with the Nesta innovation foundation awarding Chatterbox £40,000 of funding to further develop the programme.

“With the funding, our aim is to train and build up a team of around 500 refugees by January next year”, said Mursal.

And for many of the current tutors, Chatterbox has been a lifeline—helping them meet new people from all over the world, improve their overall employability and support themselves and their families.

“We came here with no wage, no money, and I only had basic English—but it was not enough. I have worked hard to improve my English over the years and I’m so proud of my progress through working with Chatterbox”, said Wajed.

Discussing her future plans, Wajed said she intends on continuing her career as a teacher and is currently studying at Cardiff and Vale College, where she has been offered a Level 2 Support Teaching and Learning Course which she plans to complete in the next year.

“It’s also a long-term goal of mine to complete a master’s”, she laughs: “I am very ambitious!”

And it appears the ambition is contagious at Chatterbox HQ, with a growing female refugee community including Jihyun, a maths teacher and human rights activist from North Korea, and Sudanese human rights and women’s rights lawyer Hekma, who is currently deciding on which of her many UK university offers to choose from.


Sudanese human rights lawyer and Chatterbox Arabic language tutor Hekma. Photo credit: Chatterbox.

Mursal concluded: “A really important part of the progress that Chatterbox has made comes from the fact that I have an intimate knowledge and understanding of what my mum went through. I was in the front seat of that and not only has that propelled and created a real drive within the organisation but that sort of level of insight into a problem will lead to better solutions ultimately.

“I’d encourage all charities and social enterprises to develop solutions for refugees by engaging with them and create and develop solutions with them, rather than for them.

“Let them be the leaders and creators of their own change.”

One of The Circle’s objectives is to amplify the voices of women who are often silenced or forgotten. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram and like us on Facebook and don’t miss future interviews with inspiring women who are making a difference.

The Circle supports a broad range of projects that help women to become independent and confident, able to stand up for their rights and influence change.

If you’d like to become a member of The Circle, please click here.


@shanhodge
Shannon Hodge is a Journalism graduate and a member of The Circle.