Wadha Alothman has a degree in Mathematics from the Faculty of Science, Aleppo University. A former member of the admin team at Al-Nour Private School in the city of Khan Sheikhoun, she is currently the Manager of Rifkan, a women’s organization focusing on training, especially in the field of women’s empowerment. She also works independently in the fields of journalism, research and media.
Wadha hails from the town of Kafr Zita, in Hama. “The town is the linking point between Idlib and Hama, famed for its olive and pistachio trees.” Wadha praises the atmosphere of understanding and love in her town. “The people of my town lived in harmony. They loved knowledge and education and were so far from any extremist thinking. It was common to see people sitting together having tea and coffee in the town squares. Neighbors and relatives would sit together to chat in an atmosphere of fun and love.” The town stood out from other cities in Hama by the freedom given to women in it. “Women in my town had considerably more freedom and rights than the neighboring towns and villages. They had the right to go to school and work, for example.”
Wadha always dreamed of a state ruled by law and democracy and that was why she did not hesitate to join the revolution. “Like all Syrians, I dreamed of changing the current status in order to live in a state that respects the rights of its citizens, a state where law and democracy prevail, and where every citizen feels appreciated. Was this not reason enough to be part of this popular revolution?”
Wadha’s participation in the revolution started with “writing and preparing placards and banners for the peaceful demonstrations”. However, she adds, “when the regime started using live ammunition against demonstrators, I worked to secure simple medical supplies for those who were injured in the demonstrations.”
When we asked her why she left her home and fled to Turkey in 2012, “fear for my children” was Wadha’s answer. “My city was one of the first cities to join the revolution. The city’s houses were almost daily subjected to shelling by the regime. But the attacks themselves did not force me to leave the city, because after all they were something that I could tolerate. But the decision to leave came after a bloody day in my city”, Wadha explains. “The regime began bombing the city using fighter jets. The shelling did not subside and intensified day after day, until that fateful day came. In the autumn of 2012, the city witnessed a painful and bloody day, when the regime’s fighter jets bombed the city so violently that 20 civilians died and their bodies were blown to pieces. The decision to leave the city with my family was final, driven by my fear for my children’s lives.”
“Being uprooted is not easy”, Wadha says about the decision to leave. She describes the experience of leaving as “one of the hardest feelings I ever had.” She adds, “when I closed the door of my house, leaving all my memories and my life behind, It was not about material belongings. I left part of my soul and memories behind. In the garden of my small house, in which I have a story with every tree, I stood contemplating before leaving. I felt that its trees were asking me reproachfully, why do you abandon us? The moments of farewell were cruel and unforgettable. The most difficult moment was when we reached the Turkish border. At that moment, I and my elderly relatives who were with me in the car, cried. I was feeling the pains of separation and farewell. They were crying for fear that they may not be able to return to Syria. Unfortunately, this actually happened, as one of them later died and was buried in Turkey.”
Even now, despite being in Turkey, Wadha wants everything around her to be Syrian. “It is certainly not easy to adapt to a place which is new in all the details, language, customs, and social norms. Staying in Turkey for a long time forces us to adapt to the new reality. But I still insist that everything around me is Syrian, from the details of my home furniture to my relationships and work, everything must have a Syrian touch.”
In Turkey, Wadha has been working as a journalist, writing articles, investigations and reports, in addition to her work in the field of research. Wadha’s main interest lies in women’s issues. About her work in Turkey, Wadha says: “My first article was published on the website All4Syria in 2014 under the title: ‘Syrian Women and Hard Choices’. In 2015, I worked at the Al-Aan news website where I wrote several articles about the security situation and the current events in Hama. Then I turned to writing articles about women.” She then developed her journalistic career and started to publish articles on multiple websites and newspapers. “I also wrote for Al-Ghirbal website, Zaytoun newspaper of the Syrian Network for Printed Press, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, New Syrian, and other press and media outlets interested in Syrian affairs. I am currently writing articles for Syria TV about Syrian people in Turkey. More specifically, I write articles about Syrian women.”
“My first research work with Harmoon Center was entitled ‘The realities of Syrian women’s work in Turkey: Syrian refugee women in Rihanli as a case study’. Then I did a number of research projects with MENA Center, including: ‘The situation of women in the Arab Spring: Tunisian women as a case study’, ‘Syrian Women’s participation in politics’, ‘Women and journalistic work’, ‘The situation of Syrian women before the revolution’, and others.”
“Many reasons keep women away from politics, like social stigma, social norms that do not tolerate real roles for women, the defamation against women working in public affairs, and social attitudes that make women feel that they do not have the ability or knowledge for political work. All of this convinces women that their place is in the back ranks and that leadership is not for them.”
Wadha has been into politics since childhood. “My love for political work is not new. Since my childhood, I was my father’s little companion, and he had a great interest in the political situation in the country.”
“I actually started getting involved in politics with the start of the revolution. I believe that real success in any revolutionary and political movement is that women must have real involvement. Their participation should not be a mere formality. Therefore, I am always endeavoring to increase my knowledge, skills and tools in political work, so that my participation and contribution are valuable. The desire to participate is not enough on its own. Women must always work to improve themselves and their capabilities in the political field.”
About the challenges facing political action in Syria before 2011, Wadha said: “There was no political freedom in Syria in the first place. We were governed by one party, one ruler, and one opinion. All of us, men and women, could not or rather were not allowed to participate in any real political action or movement. Therefore, we could not be part of any political action.”
“Certainly, women suffer more than men when they participate in political work, as the challenges facing them are greater.” This is how Wadha started talking about the challenges facing women in politics work. Wadha points out that “Many reasons keep women away from politics, like social stigma, social norms that do not tolerate real roles for women, the defamation against women working in public affairs, and social attitudes that make women feel that they do not have the ability or knowledge for political work. All of this convinces women that their place is in the back ranks and that leadership is not for them.”
Wadha joined the Syrian Women’s Political Movement because, according to her, “there is room in the SWPM to acquire knowledge through workshops and lectures. For me, being in a political body where there are feminist figures whose distinctive abilities I trust has enabled me to have a better experience. Therefore, there will be a great opportunity to achieve my dream, which is to have a real and active role in politics.”
“There are some challenges that stand in the way of the SWPM, including combatting the patriarchal society that denies women their rights. But I have faith that we will gain our rights. As the Arabic proverb says: ‘a right is never lost, as long as someone fights for it’.”
“I was so affected by the stories of women who survived detention and by their psychological and physical pain. I used to hear their stories during the training I provided to them. This made me realize the importance of feminist struggle for reaching transitional justice in Syria, in which women have a key role to play.”
The revolution is still alive in Wadha’s heart, but what she sees on the ground now is not what she expected from the revolution. “The revolution that I joined and loved since the beginning is currently living only in my heart. The Syrian situation that I see today is a conflict of interests and not a revolution. The revolution was hijacked by people who turned it into a war, a war that burned our dreams. But despite that, I have hope that we will rekindle the flames of the early days of the revolution and achieve our dreams in having a country to be proud of.”
Telling us about what her dreams for Syria are, Wadha says: “The Syria I dream of is a country of equal citizenship, in which everybody has equal rights and opportunities, a country where women are real participants in decision-making at the political, economic and social levels”.
Wadha has a message to women. “Make a decision to be strong, this is your decision. No one will defend your rights if you do not do so. Live with a feeling of strength through your decisions. Nothing is worse than living your life as a victim. It is time for you to be the one who saves the oppressed from the oppressor. A strong woman means a strong family and a strong society.”
Wadha has had many experiences through her work in training aimed at empowering women. “One of the most unforgettable experiences in my memory from the last few years was when I provided the Syrian Network for Print Press with a training course for a group of young Syrian women on journalistic writing. The young women and I wrote a book entitled Flowers in the Rubble. It was an amazing experience, as it changed a lot in the way these young women looked at their reality, their lives and their roles in society.”
“I was so affected by the stories of women who survived detention and by their psychological and physical pain. I used to hear their stories during the training I provided to them. This made me realize the importance of feminist struggle for reaching transitional justice in Syria, in which women have a key role to play.” This is how Wadha concludes her interview, drawing lessons from her experiences.