One of the most interesting features of the Syrian protest movement is the prominent role women have been taking in it.
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In the list of democracy activists released yesterday by the Government, the names of two women appeared, Catherine Al-Tali, a lawyer, and Malak Al-Shanawani, a journalist. They add to Razan Zeitouneh, Suhair Atassi, Samar Yazbeck and many others that have taken very active and vocal roles in the last two months.
At one point, at the very beginning of the movement, the main figure that symbolized the protest movement was Suheir Atassi, while the most visible figure on the Government side was another woman, Buthaina Shaaban, the spokesperson of the President.
Even now, as reports emerge that the President has formed a committee to begin discussions with the opposition, two women make the list of 4 members of this group: Najah Al-Attar, the Vice-President, and Mrs Shaaban, in addition to Farouk Al-Sharaa and Mohammad Nassif.
All of this does not make of Syria the most women-friendly country in the world but it does symbolize the increasing role Syrian women have been taking in the last few decades – ironically, partly thanks to the socialist pro-women policies of the Baath Party. In 2008, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the number of women studying at universities overtook for the first time that of men.
Most symbolic of all this may be the fact that women are also taking to the streets, an area traditionally monopolized by men. Actually, one the largest demonstrations to date in central Damascus, was an all-women demonstration in Arnous Square some two weeks ago.
As a friend recently said, the traditional expression used by Syrians to encourage themselves, “Remain strong; be a man,” should probably now be changed to “Remain strong; be a woman!”