An all-female police unit is patrolling the streets in one northwestern Syrian city, ensuring that women are wearing “proper” Islamic dress and monitoring mingling between the sexes.
The four-woman outfit began operating last month in Idlib city, where they patrol the streets near a local university in a minivan emblazoned with a Victory Army logo. Victory Army all-female police unit patrols streets near the Free Idlib University. Photo courtesy of syrian-mirror.net.
The Victory Army is a coalition of Islamist rebel brigades that captured Idlib’s provincial capital and the surrounding countryside from pro-regime forces in the spring of 2015.
Last December, the Victory Army issued a decree requiring all women to wear Islamic clothing, including headscarves, in the streets of Idlib province. Unlike the Islamic State, the Victory Army does not require women to wear the khimar, a head-to-toe black covering.
The new police unit “intimidates women and limits their presence in places where they go to learn,” Idlib resident Umm Khaled, a 35-year-old mother of two, tells Syria Direct’s Noura Hourani.
“This interference in women’s lives has caused some young women to stop attending university,” says Umm Khaled.
Q: Have you seen the all-female police patrolling the streets?
The female police unit is patrols in Idlib city.
They mostly operate around the university, near high schools and in public spaces.
When they see a woman breaking a rule they summon her husband, father or brother to give them a warning. They deal with the woman’s guardian and not the woman herself.
A single police unit in Idlib city, such as this one, is obviously going to have limited impact. As I said before, I think the goal is simply to give the impression that you are being watched.
Q: As a woman resident of Idlib, what is your opinion of this project?
In my personal opinion, the formation of this female police force—given our current situation—just intimidates women and limits their presence in places where they go to learn.
Like many women here, I’m not against Islamic dress. Our clothing is already Islamic and was so before the revolution. The issue is that people need to have a sense of personal freedom. A woman has the right to wear whatever she wants as long as it doesn’t violate Islamic law.
But when clothing becomes a way for one group to impose their authority on another, I can’t support that.
Also, clothing is not a priority in a time of war. Imposing Islamic dress should not be our priority at this time. We should be focusing on security for women and children, procuring medicine and food and enabling women so that they can support their families at a time when so many men are not around because they have been killed.
Q: How are the activities of the new police unit impacting women in Idlib?
This interference in women’s lives has caused some young women to no longer attend university.
We no longer have personal freedoms. Clothing is about personal freedom and I don’t want to feel that I’m being imposed upon.
Our society is not against Islamic law; we are against the imposition of authority on people’s freedom.