Women in Syria
Earlier this summer, Nikki Keddie, who has just published a book on women in the Middle East, email a number of Middle Easternists asking about women in Syria, because she could find so little written on the topic. All4Syria, the new web newspaper put out by Zyman Abdul Nour in Damascus, recently ran this article by a woman named Castro Nisi. Ghada Janbey kindly translated and summarized the article published in Arabic for Syria Comment. It gives the flavor of the sort of articles that are now cropping up in the press. Castr Nisi wrote her article in response to the General Director of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, who had declared that, "There has been no women's problem in Syria ever since Islam freed women." Another Syrian Shaykh recently declared on TV that, " Woman is the most dangerous thing on earth because she is fitnah (seduction or tempation) for men more than they are for her. The best guarantee to keep social order is not to let women work to earn a living unless it is absolutely necessary.”
Translated and summarized by Ghada Atrash Janbey (Yes, she is a great granddaughter of Sultan Basha al-Atrash for those who like royalty!)
In her article "The woman is half the man: There exists no cause to liberate women in Syria," Castro Nisi roundly criticizes Syrian society for being oppressive to its women. She begins by detailing the main Islamic Syrian civil laws pertaining to women, listing numerous articles by number to depict how a woman, for example, is assigned half (or less) the inheritance portion of her husband, brother or child. She is denied the right to divorce, the same citizenship rights of men, and many others. She goes further to explain how the woman is deemed a "body" and "a tool" in society, and moreover, she "must remain that way."
Castro depicts how this notion of the woman being a "body" is embedded in all avenues of the culture whether in Syrian factories where hundreds of women line up working for a continuous twelve hours a day for a wretched sum of 3000 Syrian pounds a month (80 USD), or in Syrian advertising agencies where they act as a marketing tool to allure the consumers to buy products, or in the export/import and communication offices where the woman's worth is in her body's ability to attract clientele, or in the home where again she is a body who performs the duties awaiting her every day from sweeping to washing and cooking, or in a marriage where she is looked upon as a body for sexual pleasures or merely a uterus to bear children. Castro rationalizes that the man, because of his oppressed and impotent existence in an oppressive society, living at the mercy of higher authority, turns to prove his power and authority by oppressing the woman because she must abide by his laws and regulations. Moreover, Castro explains that for a woman to be considered “modern” and “able to win the man’s heart,” she must also try to live above her means. She must carry a fancy cellular, and be dressed in Kicker’s pants, a Beneton suit, Pierre Palman accessories, and Georgio Armani shoes. Within this context, Castro quotes a Syrian female university student who openly makes known that “One red night with those who line up their cars in front of the university is enough to provide us [women] with what we want. I know many female students who do that…” Castro ends her article by quoting Haydar Haydar, a well-known Syrian author, who writes, "This miserable East has no hope. From the darkness of the caves it was born, and to its caves it returns. If it does not destroy its ornate idols, then there is no hope for the sun of wisdom to rise." And here, Castro leaves her readers with a question that, perhaps if acted upon, can spark the fire of a revolution amongst Moslem Syrian women, or Arab women in General (or at least that is my hope!). Castro asks, "But who will destroy these idols, who???"