Joumana Seif, No Democracy with Discrimination Against Women
- By: Mona Katoub
- updated: May 8, 2020
- reading time: 6 Minutes and 58 seconds
Joumana’s interest in public affairs and political activity started with the beginning of Damascus Spring in 2000, especially with the activities of the forums, specifically the national dialogue forum which was held in her father’s house, Riad Seif, regularly. After the detention of her father along with the leaders of Damascus Spring in 2001, she began to defend political detainees as a lawyer, shedding light on the issue of political arbitrary detention in Syria, despite the risks of such activity which was prohibited under the Assad dictatorship, which might lead to humiliation, abasement and perhaps even detention and putting her away from her three children for many years. In 2003, Joumana travelled to Germany to receive Weimar Human Rights Award on behalf of her father, then she was subjected to frequent summons by security agencies in Syria, in addition to social isolation which was a result of the regime intimidation of her relatives, neighbors or even friends. In addition to that, there were other challenges such as the society which blamed women who got involved in public affairs and considered them responsible for any ill-treatment they might be subjected to by the security agencies including defamation.
With the establishment of the Damascus Declaration for Democratic Change in 2005, which her father joined from his prison, Joumana attended its regular meetings on his behalf until she joined it in her personal capacity in 2007 and attended the National Council of Damascus Declaration in September 2007, and became an active member in the Damascus Committee.
“People were created to be respected and to enjoy their freedom and dignity. The Syrian people have the right to live in a democratic country where the law that equally treats people prevails.”
In the beginning of the revolution she participated in the sit-in staged in front of the Ministry of Interior on 16 March 2011, and in the demonstrations staged in al-Midan district in Damascus. She also supported relief efforts, especially the provision of medical aid to targeted areas. She sought to ensure that the voices and demands of the Syrian people were heard and she tried to expose the crimes perpetrated by the regime against civilians in all means. She also met with the international and Arab missions that visited Syria at that time, out of her belief in democracy, the Syrian revolution and that human beings were created to be respected and enjoy their freedom and dignity, as well as of her belief in the right of the Syrian people to live in a democratic state that respects its citizens; a state of law where all citizens are equal in their rights and obligations.
Joumana left Syria in 2012 to participate in the program of “Leaders for Democracy” in the United States. The program included 20 participants from all Arab countries who would receive information about democracy, negotiations and peacebuilding. The participants would exchange experience and benefit from meeting with decision makers and US civil society organizations. Joumana said that when she left Syria, she supposed that she would be back after three months. By the end of the program term in the USA, although she received news about assassination attempts by regime to her father, kidnapping attempt of one of her relatives and other kinds of threats to the rest of her family, she insisted to go back to Syria, because her daughters and father were still in Syria. However, she received a phone call from her father telling her that the travel ban he had been under since his first arrest 2001 was lifted and he was able to get a passport to seek treatment. So, she decided to meet with her family in Egypt where she stayed until 2013 before she left to settle in Berlin in Germany.
Since 1988, Joumana had worked with her father in manufacturing, as he owned garment manufacturing and exporting companies and he was considered one of the most important exporters in Syria. With the establishment of ADIDAS company in 1993, Joumana started to focus on social work and she established a special department for social supervision with the mission of providing care for male and female workers (the total of 1200 workers) and their families supporting, empowering them and organizing cultural, artistic, musical, and sports activities as well as entertainment trips for them.
“My father joined the People’s Assembly in 1994, as an industrialist defending national economy, explicitly criticizing the government, exposing the widespread corruption and rejecting the generous offers to tempt him be on their side and silence him. The response of the government was vengeful. It launched a battle against our industrial facilities by putting obstacles, preventing the export of our products and imposing unbelievably high taxes on us, which resulted in losing everything we possessed by the end of 2000.” Joumana said. “Our greatest loss was the loss of my brother Eyad (21 years old) who disappeared in 1996 without knowing anything about him ever since. The confrontation then escalated as a result of my father’s call for political reform and the cancellation of Article 8 of the constitution, exposing the questionable cellular contracts deal and insisting on holding the meetings of the National Dialogue Forum (the first political forum in Damascus Spring). The regime’s response to that was arresting my father and sentencing him to five years in prison. I assumed the responsibility of following-up my father’s trials, his condition in prison and the issues related to liquidating the company, in addition to the fact that I was a mother of three kids. I decided to study law at the time, and indeed, I graduated and got a degree in law”.
Since July 2017, Joumana has been working with the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights which is specialized in international litigation regarding gross human right violations. Since 2013, the Center has begun investigating crimes against humanity and war crimes perpetrated in Syria. After investigation and collecting evidence, the Center was able to bring four lawsuits before the German prosecutor on crimes of torture and killing perpetrated by the regime, in addition to another lawsuit filed in Sweden and another one in Austria. Through her work with the team of the Center, Joumana tries to focus on the crimes which have been perpetrated against women inside the security agencies in Syria since 2011. In addition to that, she is a volunteer with the Syrian Women Network and she is founding member of the Syrian Women Political Movement (SWPM).
“I believe SWPM will contribute to shaping the future of Syria that we all dream of and that despite all obstacles and difficulties we must hold on to hope and determination to realize our goals.”
Joumana didn’t hesitate to participate in the establishment of SWPM out of her belief that there is no democracy with the absence and exclusion of women from politics and decision-making positions; there is no democracy with discrimination against women. Out of her belief also that the desired country should ensure and protect the rights of women, especially that they have paid a heavy price in shouldering the burden of the war and its implications. Since she is convinced that no one will be able to understand women’s demands and sufferings other than women themselves, Joumana says that she believes SWPM will contribute to shaping the future of Syria that we all dream of and that despite all obstacles and difficulties we must hold on to hope and determination to realize our goals.
“I dream of Syria that is a civil and democratic state where I can walk down its streets with my head held high not fearing anything, because there is a law that protects my rights and dignity just as it protects the rights and dignity of any other citizen; a state where all people are equal, men and women and all Syrians with all of their diverse backgrounds” Joumana added.
Joumana says: “Syrian women have proven wherever they are, whether in camps or in countries of refuge, that they are strong and capable of building and improving themselves in the most difficult circumstances, as well as being able to shoulder responsibility. All respect and appreciation are due to Syrian women for their strength, courage and patience in facing the most difficult circumstances.”