Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of a blog series by Muzna on the role of Syrian women in peace activism. Part 1 outlines women’s role in peacebuilding and politics over the last five decades. Part 2 will outline how Syrian women are currently working for peace, and Part 3 will profile Syrian women peace activists. Parts 2 and 3 will be linked here once posted.
Over the five decades of Baath Party rule in Syria, social and political life for women experienced a major decline.
The Syrian regime promoted itself internationally as a pro-women secular regime. But in reality, women experienced exceptional cultural decline during the rule of Hafez and Bashar al-Assad, including the regime’s ruthless massacres of Syrian women.
Feminist activism stopped during the political turmoil in Syria before the Baath Party coup d’état. Through a series of campaigns, the Baath party dominated political and social aspects of Syrians’ lives and had hegemony over any feminist activity happening in order to control it. The only legal women’s organization operating in Syria is the General Women’s Union of Syria (GWU), established by the government. All other women’s groups operate illegally. Syrian women obtained the right to vote in 1949 and the right to stand for election in 1953 but women remained significantly under-represented in public and political life until 2011.
Arab Spring Movement and Current Conflict Situation:
During the Arab Spring, women rose up across the Arab world, including Syria, to protest for change. Although women were arrested during the initial protests, many continued to flock to the streets and encouraged more women to get involved. The various roles that women play in conflict are not as obvious as those of their male counterparts, but women often affect change in ways that many men do not even realize.
Syrian women are not just victims of the conflict — they are human rights advocates, calling for safe spaces for families, release of detainees, transparent monitoring of ceasefire violations, accountability for war crimes, and access to vital humanitarian services. They insist that war crimes committed should not be left unpunished. Women play a crucial role in families and communities preventing radicalization and violent extremism. They are working to make sure that women are not bystanders, merely observers to Syria’s peace and transition, and that Syrian women are equally engaged in the political process, because what’s best for Syrian women is best for all Syrians.