Women Under Siege, a Women’s Media Center project that documents rape and other forms of sexual violence as a weapon of war, launched acrowd-sourced initiative today to map instances of rape in Syria.

As the project gathered reports, director Lauren Wolfe said, it found something striking. “Generally women are shunned when they are raped in war. They sometimes are not allowed to go home, and whole families can be dishonored,” she said. “But what’s really interesting is that we have a report that an imam called for Syrian women who were raped to be honored, for people to embrace them. He said they’re raped and so they are heroes.”

Women's rights and the regulation of gender and sex norms in the Arab world have long been put under the spotlight by local and international activists in addition to local and international politicians and NGOs. This year, the ongoing uprisings in the Arab world have brought into focus some dominant ways that sexual and bodily rights are framed, gendered, and politicized. These can be grouped under three loose themes, each of which deserves further study: One is the equation of gender with women and/or sexual and gender minorities. Two is the fear of Islamists.

Le 26 décembre 2011, la Syrie a connu sa journée la plus meurtrière depuis la mi-mars. Cent morts civils, selon l'Observatoire syrien des droits de l'homme. Le 29, malgré la présence dans le pays d'observateurs de la Ligue arabe, les forces de sécurité ont lancé des bombes à clous sur la foule rassemblée place de la Grande-Mosquée, à Douma. Le 31 décembre, plusieurs centaines de milliers de personnes ont pris à nouveau la rue dans tout le pays. Il y a eu plusieurs dizaines de morts. Il faut voir, sur les films amateurs d'Internet, les manifestants crier ensemble face aux soldats.

Le long d’un printemps qui semblait fleurir bon la révolution, les femmes arabes ont nourri des espoirs et rêvé de changements. Elles ont parfois réussi à appeler publiquement de leurs vœux la fin des régimes corrompus et l’avènement de la démocratie. Hélas ! Si la rébellion arabe a témoigné parfois d’une présence féminine importante, comme en Tunisie, elle est restée ostensiblement masculine au Yémen et en Libye, voire en Egypte. Les images de certaines manifestantes voilées de pied en cap laissaient perplexe sur les intentions «révolutionnaires» de leurs auteures pendant que les instances et conseils révolutionnaires se succédaient en alignant les cravates et les barbes. D’autres signes devaient nous alerter sur ces soulèvements en passe de laisser les femmes sur le quai. Dans les manifestations, peu de revendications féministes ou de slogans pour l’égalité, pas de programme réclamant un changement significatif de la condition des femmes. Même les Tunisiennes, les plus actives dans le soulèvement contre Ben Ali, ont été éliminées de la course au pouvoir. Le gouvernement Kaïd Sebssi concédait un seul portefeuille important aux femmes, aucun parti n’était présidé par une figure féminine en vue et, sur les 1 700 listes candidates à la Constituante, on comptait juste 7% de femmes têtes de listes.

While the Arab Spring has provided women with space to make their voices heard, “It has also become clear that there are real risks, especially [for woman] in places like Egypt and Libya,” said Head of Human Rights Watch’s Women Division Liesl Gerntholtz. 

“[Arab] women were visible, they went out and demonstrated for changes, but unfortunately right after the ousters of [Tunisian President Zeineddine] Ben Ali and [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak, we saw a backlash,” added her colleague, Nadya Khalife, the Middle East North Africa researcher in HRW’s women's rights division. 

The latest entry on Razan Ghazzawi blog Sunday night was about the freeing of Syrian blogger Hussein Ghrer. (Photo: rzanghazzawi.com)

We live in historic times. People in the Arab world are rising up against political dictatorship and corruption; they demand reforms and are organizing for freedom, human dignity and social justice. Women have been shouldering the responsibilities in all uprisings and their movement is an integral part of the democratic forces for social and economic justice. But they are systematically excluded from the decision making processes that shape the future of their countries. What democracies are then being prepared and negotiated?

The enormous role of women in the uprisings in the MENA region is undisputed. They faced verbal and physical abuse, violence, arrest and death just as their male counterparts. The transformation of these countries has been groundbreaking, and their participation is as important as ever. After the dust of the battle settles, will Arab societies remember to include women in the rebuilding of their countries?

This report is part of a WLUML three-part series on women’s rights in the context of the ‘Arab uprisings’. Last week: Egypt: Fighting for Women’s Rights in the Aftermath of the Revolution.

The Syrian government’s response to the uprisings across the country has been violent; over one thousand people have been killed so far, more than a hundred of them in the southwestern city of Deraa, and ten thousand people are said to have been detained by security forces. Syrian women, in common with their counterparts in Egypt and Tunisia, have played a crucial role in the protests against the autocratic political regime, which has hitherto successfully used the threat of the well-organised mukhabarat (secret services) to silence dissent. Their outspoken demands for the release of male family members, and the voices of those women who have themselves been targeted by government forces, has focused the attention of women’s groups and human rights organizations both inside and outside Syria on their situation.

Following the revelation that "Amina" was a hoax two LGBT Syrian Activists speak out. Sami Hamwi, Gay Middle East Syria: Blogging in Syria has been forbidden by law for more than eight years. As internet started to flourish, many Syrians started to use internet spaces and blogs to write personal thoughts, poetry, short stories… etc. unaware of that fact, but they remained safe as the authorities only monitored political and human rights blogs. LGBT bloggers can manage to keep safe only if their blogs were meant for gossip and entertainment, but they might have to face different kind of difficulties if they reported news or engaged into LGBT rights activism. As soon as any blog starts to attract attention, the agony with authorities’ interference starts.

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