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Women journalists in northwest Syria brave daily dangers

Syrian female journalists face challenges and abuse just for being women.
TOPSHOT - Displaced Syrian women walk at a camp in Kafr Lusin village on the border with Turkey in Syria's northwestern province of Idlib, on March 10, 2020. - When protesters in March 2011 demanded their rights and regime change, they likely never imagined it would trigger a reaction that has led to the 21st century's biggest war. Nine years on, President Bashar al-Assad is still in power and there to stay, more than 380,000 people have died, dozens of towns and cities razed to the ground and half of the c

Almost a year ago, Sara Kassim embarked on her career as a journalist in one of the most dangerous areas in the world that falls under the control of fundemantalitst groups and is a constant target for the Syrian regime and its allies.

“I started working with a German press agency. I used to take photographs in Idlib during the displacement waves with small passages in English that were published. Then SY+ offered me to work as a reporter and I took up the job,” she told Al-Monitor.

Kassim, who is in her 20s, is among many other Syrian women who took the decision to work in journalism, despite the many challenges and hardships they face, such as being working women engaged in a dangerous profession.

“I chose journalism because I like to focus on good things and problems in society. For instance, [I choose] problems that by pinpointing their causes we might be able to fix or find solutions to. However, this is no easy task. I chose journalism so I can address the issues in the community and try to eventually find solutions,” Kassim added.

Syria’s northwestern areas are under the control of extremist groups, the strongest of which is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham that supports the National Salvation Government controlling all aspects of life there.

In December 2019, the Syrian Female Journalists Network published a questionnaire on the security and safety of Syrian female journalists, which concluded that female journalists working for local organizations face many dangers and violations because of the fact that they are women and work in the media. The violations mainly include the imposition of a certain dress code, denial of time off, harassment, the threat of dismissal and denial of promotion, in addition to the perils of bombardments by the Syrian regime forces.

Roula Assad, a Syrian journalist and the Syrian Female Journalists Network’s executive director, told Al-Monitor, “The majority of female journalists in northwestern Syria are also defenders of freedom of expression, human rights and justice. They are often subjected to bullying in a bid to push them out of the media. This is in addition to harassment, often commenting on the journalists’ looks and personal life, especially over the past five years. To target our credibility causes real pressure on our work and restricts our activities in the public and private spheres.”

Yakeen Bido, a female journalist working in northern Syria, recently came under attack on social media after she said that there was no “revolutionary press” in Syria. As a result, she was arbitrarily dismissed from the Aleppo Media Union in late May. Bido was awarded the “Courage in Journalism” award by the International Women’s Media Foundation in May.

Journalist Hadia Mansour has faced many hardships since she started covering events in northwestern Syria in 2015.

“In my journalistic journey I faced many obstacles and difficulties, mainly customs and traditions and the society’s view of women as relegated to housewives. The community does not approve of women going out of their homes frequently to cover the news, especially in areas where men are present,” Mansour told Al-Monitor.

“We also suffer from stereotyping and alienation, which I managed to break away from. This was not an easy task in a patriarchal society and with the security chaos and harassment from some hard-line factions. My house in Kafr Nabl was raided by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham when I published an investigative report condemning the group’s practices and confiscation of people’s houses and properties accusing them of infidelity. When they stormed into my house, luckily my family and I were not there; they claimed we were housing an Islamic State cell,” she said.

Ibrahim Hussein, a judge and director of the Syrian Center for Press Freedoms affiliated with the Syrian Journalists Association, believes that the parties that are committing violations in Syria do not differentiate between journalists based on their gender. They persecute male and female journalists alike in Syria, he said.

“It is only normal to have a discrepancy in numbers, since the number of female journalists is much less in the areas that are not under the control of the regime. According to the center’s records, there have been 38 violations against female media workers in Syria since 2011. This is a very small number compared to the violations against male journalists,” Hussein told Al-Monitor.

Assad explained that northwestern Syria has been witnessing political and military tensions and frequent changes in the controlling parties, which puts journalists at risk. “Journalists in these areas face discrimination and hostility from other colleagues and from military groups, which could lead to kidnappings and killings. Female journalists also face restrictions and violations — first for being women, which could hinder them from carrying out their job,” she said.

Kassim and Mansour both said that they will continue their work despite all the obstacles. Kassim has recently conducted an interview with US Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft and discussed with her the humanitarian aid for Syria and the situation in the country.

“I will keep doing what I am doing despite all the dangers as I believe in the facts that I convey in Syria, and in documenting the crimes committed by the Syrian regime against our people, as well as the crimes of other parties. I am mainly focused on covering the suffering of civilians,” Mansour concluded.

Mansour publishes her work in several media outlets including Al-MonitorAsharq al-Awsat and other Arab and Syrian newspapers.

Syrian journalists are subjected to harassment even across the border, as happened with journalist Maha Ghazal who works for Syria TV at its main headquarters in Istanbul, Turkey. When her personal accounts were hacked by people in the administration to pressure her to resign, she did not give in and exposed the matter with a courageous live video broadcast from the heart of the channel’s headquarters.

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