Ghaythaa Asaad Dali is a trainer in socio-psychological support and mental health at Tastakel organization, facilitator and member of the General Committee of Darb organization, member of the network of Refugee Network in MENA, and a recognized trainer with the Swedish Board for Sustainable Development. She has been active in the field of women’s civil society organizations since 2015, and helped create the Woman Protection Network where she served as a Chairperson of the Board of Directors. She was a coordinator in the Syrian Networks League. Ghaythaa is also a member of the Syrian Women’s Political Movement.
Ghaythaa starts by describing the city of Masyaf where she was born and raised. “I lived in Masyaf, the beautiful, green mountain city, the city of intellect, liberties, and diversity on the religious, intellectual and ideological levels.”
Working in Masyaf, according to Ghaythaa, was wonderful. “I worked as a health advisor at a private nursery. I was also a member of the board of directors in Al-Rajaa Society for People with Special Needs. My activism was limited to social initiatives and volunteering with community organizations. I also ventured into business and ran my own women’s clothing shop. It was a wonderful experience.”
“Oppression, injustice, corruption, backwardness and poverty are justification enough for revolution.”
“I still remember feeling excited like a bird learning to fly when the Egyptian revolution triumphed. I cried in anticipation for this moment to come to Syria,” says Ghaythaa about her feelings towards the Egyptian Revolution. “Syrian people have known nothing but injustice, tyranny and oppression. We were longing for freedom and change. I believe this to be the right of every human being. As the Arab Spring marched on, my support for the people’s right to self-determination became stronger. Then I started to see the ‘big bang’ of intellectual and cultural activity that broke out in the spring of 2011.”
Speaking about her motivation for supporting the Revolution, Ghaythaa says, “Someone once said: nothing about revolution itself is appealing because it is always perilous. However, oppression, injustice, corruption, backwardness and poverty are justification enough for revolution. I have always wanted to feel a sense of belonging to this country but I felt that the regime was stopping me from having this feeling in the full sense of the word.”
Ghaythaa left Masyaf and Syria in 2915 for Turkey, overcome with contradicting feelings of apprehension because of change, as well as her desire to start a new life, with a lot of sadness and homesickness. “As the car drove me out of Masyaf, I looked back at the road behind and felt that someone was uprooting my very soul from its place, with all the anguish you can imagine accompanying such an experience. I still remember the first day I arrived in Turkey seven years ago. I decided to burn my ships and sever all my ties with the womb that carried me. Leaving one’s birthplace is very much like the act of being born. It makes you meet new cultures, languages and modes of communication. Not all births are easy but they are all equally painful.
“Nothing looked complete. Everything was hazy. New experiences are confusing, yet exciting. Knowledge is by nature cumulative. Rivers gather from tiny droplets of water, and so does our awareness which grows from having different experiences. We grow by becoming wiser through having more experiences, not by the mere passing of days. As we approach a new adventure, it looks scary at first but then it becomes a source of joy. I used to remind myself that perseverance and ambition are the real sources of success. I had a firm belief that choosing the right first step is the only way to guarantee success. I was enchanted by a light at the end of the tunnel. It was a hypothetical light but it gave me the necessary anxiety which drives change.”
Like all Syrian men and women seeking refuge in Turkey, Ghaythaa faced a number of challenges. “It was expected that I would be going through a rough patch as I tried to secure the necessities of life. This was made harder by the language barrier, and the fact that I was living away from my family, and had fewer and fewer savings to rely on. I also faced difficulties in integration as I lived in constant fear of political turmoil that might lead to the deportation of Syrians.” To stand up to the new reality, Ghaythaa says, “I established a network of social relations. I volunteered to help Syrian families, and I worked in social and psychological support.”
Looking at the full half of the glass, Ghaythaa says, “Leaving home has given me many new opportunities. I returned to studying and I did a diploma in Political Science. I also acquired new skills in social and psychological support and psychological first aid by doing a number of training courses and diplomas with the German-Syrian Association. My message has always been to increase confidence, acquire life skills, break stereotypes, achieve self-healing and stand up to the challenges of life.”
Supporting and advocating for women to access their rights has always been Ghaythaa’s concern., which she demonstrated through her work in civil society organizations in Turkey. “I have worked in the field of women’s civil society organizations since 2015,” she says. “I have always sought to break stereotypes, and work on establishing mechanisms to demand equality, human rights and justice. I also work on reinforcing the idea that women are an essential component of society, with full rights. For example, when I worked as the Chairperson of the Women’s Protection Network, my main interest was to fight the exclusion of women, and to enhance their presence in all political and social forums. Women need to banish the victim mentality and become free to build a healthy society in which the values of citizenship and equal rights are firmly rooted.”
“The Syrian Women’s Political Movement defends women. It has a number of important members and it strives through various forms of activity to challenge the stereotypes around women. It also gives the feminist movement new momentum in the economic and social fields, and exposes unfair laws that deny women their rights”.
Ghaythaa believes that there were a number of reasons that made Syrian women unwilling to engage in political work before 2011. “One of the most important reasons for women’s reluctance to engage in political work in Syria before 2011 was their marginalization and exclusion from political life, lack of political education for women, and the process of exclusion that affected many Syrian regions.”
However, in Ghaythaa’s opinion, “After 2011, women’s activism began as the result of a cumulative process. Civil society organizations played a key role. Despite their shortcomings, they have had the greatest impact in giving women a number of leading roles, even though still small, and in empowering female presence in international forums to convey the voice of women, which is an achievement that cannot be over-emphasized.
Ghaythaa also mentioned a number of factors that are currently making Syrian women abstain from political life. “Women’s political participation is weak, substandard and shy. Their presence is often a formality. Women are marginalized and excluded, which may lead to an adverse reaction among women, represented by their reluctance to take part in political debates. The lack of political education for women, which stresses the importance of their role in political work and public affairs, plays a role in keeping them away from political work. There have been several workshops and training courses aimed at promoting women’s participation in political life, but their duration was short and quick, and the amount of information they presented was massive. These workshops also targeted a limited number of Syrian women, and therefore did not achieve their desired goal.
“What if there were no civil society organizations? What if there were no good feminist movements and initiatives?” Ghaythaa asks these questions in order to talk about her reasons for joining the Syrian Women’s Political Movement, which she sees as a force for change, a movement that contributes to breaking the stereotypical image of women in our society. “The Syrian Women’s Political Movement defends women. It has a number of important members and it strives through various forms of activity to challenge the stereotypes around women. It also gives the feminist movement new momentum in the economic and social fields, and exposes unfair laws that deny women their rights”.
Ghaythaa hopes that the SWPM will work on “networking with women’s movements and civil society organizations inside Syria, exchanging knowledge and experiences, and establishing a unified entity to serve as a women’s research center run by a female staff. The movement also needs to focus on young women as the pioneers of its future.
“A top-to-bottom discourse will perpetuate reluctance to participate and may lead to hostility.” This is one of the obstacles that must be avoided in the SWPM, according to Ghaythaa.
“A moral revolution, a new compass” is what Syrian women and men need for the Revolution to succeed, a decade after its outset. Ghaythaa talks about solutions and practices that can be applied by Syrian women and men to reorient their activism. “Syrian women and men should talk to each other in small circles. These circles can then grow, avoiding the influence of armed groups. They need to develop practical plans in the economy, politics and society and work to implement them in order to survive. We must also rely on young women and men inside and outside Syria.”
As for the Syria Ghaythaa dreams of, she says, “The Syrian people deserve to live in dignity, and as the late Khaled Taja said: ‘Let us stop saying this is an Islamist, and this is a communist. I won’t work with them. We should all work for our country’. We need to work for a country of equal citizenship and freedom that accommodates everyone. Men and women should all work together to end the chaos.”
“Women’s Rights are not given; they are earned with hard work. Success is relative. What one person considers success may not be so for another. The road to success is very long, and our personal success story is not something you achieve in the end. One needs to think of being a successful person and not a mere nobody, and that’s when success begins. Write your own success story. It is a long and arduous journey, but it is well worth the effort.” This is Ghaythaa’s message to women in general, and to women in the SWPM in particular.
Ghaythaa draws attention to an issue that she encountered through her experiences working with women and feminists, an issue that makes her concerned. “As feminists we do not engage in a process of self-criticism. We do not monitor our feminist consciousness or are we real feminists? We sometimes oppress, rather than support, one another, either intentionally or unintentionally. I am concerned about the violence that women practice towards each other, such as professional, competitive, emotional, verbal abuse, exclusion and control, and the willingness of some women to exploit other women.”
Ghaythaa feels a lot of positivity and gratitude for everything she has learned and for all the experiences she gained. “I have read a lot and I trained a lot. I started studying again at the age of 45, getting a diploma in Political Science in Turkey. I have been a member of the German-Syrian Association of Psychologists for the past seven years. There is no way to go back. I do not want to return to a failed or chaotic Syria. I must be my own ambassador to the world, and an ambassador of my country and my family. My work with Syrian young women and men was one of the most enjoyable and enriching experiences I have ever had. I feel grateful for it. My work as the Chairperson of a Women’s Network has given me the chance to learn about the skills and challenges of management, and taught me the importance of teamwork to get out of the bottleneck. It is impossible for me to count all the positive situations I have witnessed because there are too many.”