According to Suhair Atassi, a female activist and a Syrian National Council member in Cairo, there is a female brigade in Dera’a numbering around 1,000. In Antakiya, I met rebel fighter, Bassel, on his way out of Syria after spending over a year fighting across the country. “There are women fighters in Dera’a. They learned to carry and use weapons to avoid rape, and fight the Assad regime. Fatima, my cousin, destroyed two tanks from her balcony by throwing bombs on passing tanks, but the poor woman’s house was destroyed as they shelled her building” he said.
Although the Syrian constitution and labour laws promised equality of the sexes, discrimination remained in Syria under the Assad regime. Although personal status law varies according to your religion, some women are required to have male guardians contract their marriages. Adultery laws are different for men and women, with harsher penalties for women in some cases. There were, until the uprising, two hundred so-called “honour killings” per year, where a woman is murdered because of the belief that she has brought dishonour upon her family or community. Honour-based murders are not considered a serious crime in Syria; they only carry a maximum of one year in prison.
Yet, women have done better until recently than their Middle Eastern neighbours, at least in terms of political representation. According to the World Bank and the Inter Parliamentary Union, Syrian women held 12 percent of seats in the (albeit toothless) parliament, compared to the average nine percent in other parliaments in the region. One of the two vice-presidents in Syria was female; although rumours are now circulating she has defected.
Read more at Daily News Egypt, published 13 September 2012.