“After all this bombardment, when it stops—even for two days—people still go out into the streets and demand peace, democracy and change, and raise the flag of the revolution. This gives me hope.”
Majd Chourbaji is a Syrian activist and the founder and manager of Basamat for Development in Lebanon. She has been working on women's rights in Syria since before the nonviolent resistance began in 2011 and ran peacebuilding workshops for women prisoners while a prisoner herself. She works to support Syrian refugee women and women's empowerment within Syria. In 2015, Majd was awarded the U.S. State Department's International Women of Courage Award, for her work with women and human rights advocacy in Syria.
How did you get involved in advocating for democratic, peaceful change in Syria?
I believe in the fundamental role of women in making change and making peace in Syria. I participated since the very beginning of the revolution in the peaceful protests asking for change. Our work in Daraya [near Damascus] even before the war focused on women’s empowerment. The Syrian regime was using a sectarian narrative to try to divide everyone, so I organized protests and sit-ins that included women from all faiths and walks of life in Syria.
What is special about your organization, Basamat for Development?
Since October 2013, I have been in Lebanon working on women’s issues and education for Syrian refugee children. We now have three schools, one in Syria with 650 students, and two in Lebanon with 1500 students. We have a women’s centre in Lebanon and four in the liberated areas in Syria. What makes Basamat special is that it originated from the heart of the conflict, from the heart of the suffering—most of the people at Basamat have lost something or someone in Syria.
You’ve have lost your husband and so many others. Where do you think your strength comes from to work so hard on behalf of all of Syria?
We cannot give in to desperation because that would be an insult to the memory of all those who have died. I have hope in the future of Syria, for kids to return home and live in a democratic and just country. When I see the determination in women’s eyes in Lebanon or inside of Syria and see that they are determined to build on what they’ve lost, that gives me strength and power to keep going.
One of the challenges in Western media is the focus on ISIS. Where should the focus be?
The focus on ISIS has a political dimension to it. The fall of the current Syrian regime is not in the interest of many countries, so there’s an attempt to shift the focus away to ISIS, which is doing bad things of course but there are other things happening, too. The Syrian people are not extremist, but when we are dealing with besieged cities where children have to go eat grass like animals and we have to ask how some people become extremists—it’s no wonder! There was a story of a man in Idlib who had to bury four of his kids on the same day. After [hearing] that, we cannot ask ourselves why that man went insane.
How do you see the role of Syrian women in the peace process?
The women in Syria have no blood on their hands, they’re not the ones doing the fighting. We believe they are the best ones to ask for peace since they haven’t participated in any hostilities, and only want peace, justice and accountability.
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