Moving undetected across the front lines, female freedom fighters have become indispensable to the fight.
On the afternoon that Syrian soldiers finally forced their way through Raifah Sammie’s front door, they were surprised to find her stomping right toward them, shouting angrily, having just finished putting her headscarf on. “You can’t just barge into someone’s home like this!” Sammie scolded the men. “Don’t you have mothers and sisters? There are women here! We need time to cover up.” The soldiers had been searching homes in the rebellious province of Idlib in eastern Syria, and at first they demanded to know what had taken Sammie so long to open up. They had knocked and shouted repeatedly before her son let them in. But as the soldiers surveyed the scene—four women sat nervously with their kids, while the formidable Sammie stood guard before her 22-year-old son, who she proudly noted was attending medical school—their suspicions gradually eased. “I’m just a housewife,” Sammie said.
Once the soldiers left, Sammie reached between a bedroom window and shade and retrieved the hard drive she had stashed there while the soldiers were busy pounding on her door. She had also been frantically deleting contacts from her two mobile phones, while tearing up pieces of paper with the phone numbers—from Romania, America, Turkey, France—of Syrian contacts living abroad who regularly sent over large sums of money that she then channeled to the rebellion. Sammie was indeed a housewife, just as she’d claimed. She was also a key cog in Idlib’s revolutionary machine, having graduated from organizing demonstrations to distributing funds to rebels who needed money for arms.
On a recent afternoon near the Syrian border in the Turkish city of Antakya, where she took refuge last month, Sammie, who was wearing an elegant pink headscarf and a carefully tailored black abaya, recounted the ruse with a grin. It was just one of many successful operations, which also included helping people to defect and raising cash for the rebels.
“I was a lady with a lot of connections, and people started to pay attention,” Sammie said. “I’ve done everything possible for the revolution.”
When the uprising began early last year, women took part in the peaceful protests right alongside men. But as the conflict turned increasingly bloody, with the Assad regime bombarding rebels and civilians with heavy artillery and fighter jets, and the death toll reaching at least 30,000, according to the activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, men came to dominate the front lines.
Behind the scenes, however, women still play a crucial role, smuggling cash, medicine, and arms, while also manning field hospitals and media centers and organizing humanitarian relief.
“The media are covering the front lines, so you only see men these days. But we’re still out there working in huge numbers. Only now a lot of our work relies on secrecy,” says Rafia Salemah, an activist, using her nom de guerre because she continues to work in Damascus and the regime has begun cracking down on women. Women activists say the scrutiny of women at checkpoints by security forces has increased exponentially in recent weeks, with the regime apparently clued in to their work.
The dissident Suhair Atassi was among the revolution’s first high-profile arrests and has since become a top figure in the opposition. Razan Zeitouneh, another early Damascus organizer, who was forced into hiding, is widely seen as the leader of the Local Coordination Committees, one of the revolution’s most prominent activist groups.
Rama al-Assas, a young activist who friends say was targeted for her extensive relief work in Damascus, has been missing since Aug. 27. Friends say she left her home that day to pick up medical supplies and was instead dragged into a car by regime-loyal thugs. They also say she knew she was being watched but refused to give up her work. “She considered herself a freedom fighter. And fighters never pull back,” one friend says.
A recent report by the Syrian Network for Human Rights estimated that at least 1,900 women have been killed in the uprising so far. And the Observatory’s Sipan Hassan says the regime has also arrested many women, though numbers are hard to come by. “For the regime, it doesn’t matter if you’re a woman or a man,” he says. “Women are playing a huge role in the revolution right now. And many of them have been arrested for it.”
Excerpt, read: Women in the Revolution -By Mike Giglio| Newsweek