Isis has fallen to pieces in Syria – but the country’s subjugated women remain defiant

It is important we recognise the decisive role women have played in the struggle for freedom in Syria

Woman who was sold as sex slave burns veil after fleeing Isis in Syria

After years of fighting, the Syrian Democratic Forces have declared final victory over Isis. This victory is a gift and provides hope, not least for those who suffered under their cruelty. But as we celebrate the defeat of Isis we must not forget the sacrifice of women as the battle for Syria continues.

In the midst of the horrors, many women have emerged who can act as an inspiration for us all, be it the remarkable young women who have taken a leading role in the opposition to Assad and Isis, the women tortured and murdered in Assad’s prisons or the Yazidis enslaved and raped by Isis.

In 2013, Syrian military intelligence operatives raided a house in an upmarket suburb of Damascus. They knew the address well, having stormed the house the day before to arrest Abdul Rahman Yasin.

On this occasion they didn’t come to arrest anyone, they came to loot, and they stole everything, including the paperwork for the property itself. They did so right in front of Abdul’s wife Rania and their six children, who were forced to watch their entire world carried out the front door and driven away on the back of a lorry, as Abdul had been the day before.

The following day, the military intelligence operatives returned, and they took Rania and her six children. Rania was a dentist and a mother, she posed no threat to Assad, yet she has spent the last six years in prison. Rania is my cousin, her children are all part of my family, none of whom we have heard from since and none of whom will be free until Assad is gone.

Rania is not alone. Across Syria there are thousands of women like her. Yet in the midst of the horrors these women endured, many emerged as the leaders that inspired and led the Syrian opposition.

As a journalist from Damascus I am very familiar with Syrian prisons. Until I fled Syria I was routinely detained, questioned and psychologically tortured by Assad’s thugs for criticising the regime.

Despite the risks, I considered it a personal duty to spread the truth about what was going on in my country to the world. I worked with both British media and media from within Syria itself, although the website I was primarily writing for eventually was banned by the regime. Sometimes I would be called in and questioned for an article I hadn’t even written but the security services would insist it had been me as they thought it was written “in my style”.

Eventually there came a point when my son and I were in too much danger to remain in our homeland, and we decided to make a new life for ourselves in the UK. My experience is by no means unusual – it reflects the wider suffering of Syrians.

The Syrian people have suffered immeasurably under the cruelty of Assad and the barbarity of Isis. Families have been torn apart, millions have been left homeless and entire cities destroyed.

In response, many women have joined the ranks of the various Kurdish and Syrian opposition forces, and have played a leading role, both on and behind the frontlines. The bravery, sacrifice and leadership shown by so many of the female Yazidis have been seen across Syria. In every community Syrian women have taken a leading role, be it diplomatically, taking up arms, or challenging Assad in his own courts.

Take for example Ilham Ahmed, the co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council, the political arm of the Syrian Democratic Forces. Ilham has travelled the world, lobbying governments to support the Syrian people in their fight against Assad and Daesh. She has garnered a lot of media attention and is regarded as one of the most important members of the Syrian opposition. She is emblematic of the leading role women have played in the wider Syrian struggle.

I do not know, nor can I predict, what the fate of Syria will be in the years to come. I do know that if we give up on Syria or lose faith in its people, the sacrifice of women like Ilham will have been in vain.

Many of us believe the job is far from complete and rightly fear the vacuum Isis’s departure could leave. Yet the leadership women have shown must be supported if we hope to free Syria from all oppressors and free women like Rania who remain locked up.

We must continue to work towards a future where Syria is free from war and look forward to a day when Syria is free from Isis, Assad and all the other terrorist parasites sucking the life out of our country. We want to build a democratic, tolerant and open Syria where we can live in peace, journalists are not persecuted and where the people elect their leader.

If the world fails to support the Syrian opposition as they continue to the fight for their freedom, the women who made these sacrifices would have done so for nothing. I beg you all to support these women and the entire Syrian people who only want to secure a better future – they should not have to choose between Assad and terrorism.

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