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Souriyeh / سوريّة: Women’s voices from Syria

For around five years, Judi Arash lived under siege in a bombed-out, encircled rebel-held area of northern Homs that, at one point, was restricted to just three square kilometers.As a respite, she threw herself into her job as a journalist, choosing to report on the conflict unfolding around her.

21 February 2019

AMMAN: For around five years, Judi Arash lived under siege in a bombed-out, encircled rebel-held area of northern Homs that, at one point, was restricted to just three square kilometers.

As a respite, she threw herself into her job as a journalist, choosing to report on the conflict unfolding around her.

“It was a way for me to express myself, or maybe just to do something,” she tells Syria Direct. “It started to become a part of me, something I could never give up.”

Becoming a journalist was never an obvious choice for Judi. Born in Homs’ conservative Waer neighborhood, the 25-year-old says she was the only female reporter covering the siege from the inside. The work was dangerous, as well—and potentially lethal. She faced kidnapping threats, bombing, hunger.

“I wasn’t sleeping in my home,” Judi recalls, reflecting on her time in Homs. And yet she continued to work as a journalist, and to tell the story of her neighborhood.  

“Of course it was dangerous, but I had nothing to lose in the first place. I had to keep going forward.”

Stories like Judi’s are vital to improving the overarching narrative of women in the Syrian conflict—one in which reporting has often denied Syrian women and girls their agency. They are all too often portrayed as passive mothers, displaced victims of war or “jihadi brides,” whereas in reality the war has created new spaces for Syrian women to work, write and report their own stories. The war has also thrust women—young and old—into new roles: activists, journalists and artists.

According to psychosocial worker Nahla, based in Jordan, women are desperately needed in those roles. In her case, the presence of women in psychosocial work means more people can receive assistance—including women themselves. “You’ve lived their experiences…you’ve seen similar cases previously, and you’ve seen people get over [these hurdles],” Nahla tells Syria Direct.

Those stories also include those in the diaspora, where life away from Syria has challenged pre-existing values about the role of Syrian women, and the meaning of home.

Syrian musician Salam Susu playing harp at a Radiant Arcadia performance in Copenhagen last December. Photo courtesy of Jacob Crawfurd/Crawfurd Media – Film and Photography.

Samara Sallam, a Palestinian-Syrian artist originally from the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in South Damascus, often finds her mind occupied by questions related to identity, exile, statelessness and belonging.

In 2012, three years into her journalism studies at Damascus University, Samara’s family was forced to flee their home due to the war. She’s spent the past eight years in exile since fleeing her home—first in Algeria and now in Denmark.

Diaspora, for Samara, has been a space for creativity and reflection, as well as uprooting.

“I don’t feel like I’m Syrian, and I don’t feel like I’m Palestinian. And I also don’t feel like I’m Algerian. But maybe [all of] that, like little pieces of everything.”

“I feel that I have my own experience.”

This week, to bring to light the stories of Judi, Samara and other Syrian women, Syria Direct is launching its first-ever audio reporting series, Souriyeh / سوريّة.

The 10-part series, featuring both Arabic and English-language reporting, takes its title from the feminine adjective of “Syrian.” The goal: to chart the role that Syrian women are playing in communities inside Syria, as well as the diaspora, after more than seven years of war—and to explore the challenges that Syrian women overcome each day.

Syria Direct reporter Reem Ahmad speaks to female heads of household in Jordan struggling to get by after losing their husbands to the war, while Ammar Hamou explores the international programs targeting refugee women in Jordan. Waleed Khaled a-Noufal, meanwhile, reports on why these programs are increasingly out of touch with people’s day-to-day needs.

In the two-part “Art in Exile” mini-series, Alice Al Maleh and Avery Edelman speak to two refugee women in Europe who are using art in different ways to navigate new lives in the diaspora.

Alaa Nassar explores the grassroots kitchen collectives and culinary startups that Syrian women have set up in Jordan to seek an alternative source of livelihood, while Barrett Limoges reports on the fight against underage marriage among Syrian girls in Jordan.

Madeline Edwards speaks to Syrian women in Lebanon striving to move on with their lives after losing loved ones back home. And, finally, Justin Clark introduces the Syrian journalists working to ensure women’s voices are heard in reporting on the war.

Syria Direct’s team of reporters have spent the past two months training in the fundamentals of audio journalism, before heading out into the field and conducting interviews with Syrian women in Jordan, Lebanon and Europe. This series is intended as a first step in audio reporting, and Syria Direct plans to incorporate audio storytelling into its in-depth, investigative reporting on Syria and the Syrian conflict in the coming months.

You can listen to all 10 episodes in Syria Direct’s bilingual Souriyeh / سوريّة audio reporting series below, or visit our Soundcloud page to learn more about the series.

Souriyeh / سوريّة was produced by Syria Direct with support from the Canadian Embassy in Amman. The views or opinions expressed during the series are solely those of the individuals involved and do not necessarily represent those of Syria Direct.

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