The war in Syria has marked a turning point for women’s power and voice in the public sphere. With men largely out of the picture—as fathers, husbands, and sons have been killed, forced to flee, or disappeared—women’s roles have shifted from homemakers to change-makers. Amidst the chaos, women are actively organizing to keep their communities safe and pushing Syria toward a path of peace.
Our grantee partner Women Now for Development is a courageous Syrian women-led group standing tall in the face of rising extremism and government oppression—determined to see women thrive both in and outside of Syria. Founded in 2012 by Syrian feminist activist Samar Yazbek, Women Now first started as a small support group for a few families in Syria and quickly grew into a major women’s network—now running two centers in Syria and two in Lebanon.
But running these centers has not been easy. Women Now was forced to suspend three of their centers based in Eastern Ghouta when the city was bombarded by the Syrian regime and its Russian allies. Their centers were hit and destroyed by airstrikes. Women Now also lost their beloved colleague, friend, and activist Malak in the airstrikes.
Neither the growing political turmoil nor threats from extremist groups have stopped Women Now from getting women’s voices heard. Whether within the family in Syria or in international peace talks in Geneva, Women Now’s first goal is to increase women’s participation in Syrian society. In Idlib, Women Now’s centers are dynamic, safe spaces where women meet, speak freely, and support one another in developing the knowledge and skills they need to become stronger leaders in their families, communities and public life—and Bayan Rehan has been at the heart of it.
Bayan is one of many women’s rights activists planting seeds of hope for a brighter future in Syria. She first got involved with Women Now three years ago when—having been imprisoned herself for her activism—she was invited to give a talk about torture in Syrian prisons. From her native city of Ghouta to being forcibly displaced to Idlib, Bayan has remained committed to Women Now in running its leadership program that trains women in public speaking, team management, negotiation and debate.
The training has already encouraged many women to join and lead local councils, become story-tellers to amplify the voices from their community, and create “friendship circles” that provide women with the confidence needed to claim their rights. As Bayan says, “Women are now solely responsible for the well-being of their families and communities. They will be the ones to rebuild Syria. For this reason, we must provide them with the experience necessary to get the job done.”
What keeps Bayan going? Her vision for Syria. “What has inspired me to keep up my work is my belief in the future of Syria. No matter how tired or weak I become, I will continue my work. My hope is that Syrian women will play an active role in rebuilding Syria and make their own decisions.”
In Fiscal Year 2018:
- Global Fund for Women provided our first grants to women’s groups inside Syria! While it took us a year to get here—from exploring how to get approval to conducting an extensive mapping of women human rights groups to partner with— we are proud to be one of handful organizations supporting women’s groups persevering to exist amidst bombardment and conflict in the country.
- We provided $545,745 to 16 grantee partners in 6 countries helping displaced women and girls become voices for peace and rebuilding in their communities, including organizations in Syria and neighboring countries: Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Palestine, and Iraq.
- Grantee partners not only worked with Syrians but also Palestinian, Lebanese, and Iraqi women and girls who lived together in camps as refugees and internally displaced people.
- In the first year of grantmaking, 4,625 women and girls were equipped with the knowledge and tools to advocate for their rights through workshops, trainings, and counseling—from internally displaced women in Syria learning about transitional justice to women refugees in Lebanon building skills to generate income.
- Sisterhood is Global Institute in Jordan, Collective for Research and Training on Development in Lebanon, and Foundation for the Support of Women’s Work in Turkey are collaborating on a project to reduce stigma about Syrian refugees