This is a message from Ghalia Rahhal, a hairdresser turned women’s rights champion who is driving forward the struggle for equality in northern Syria – today on International Women’s Day and every day. Show your support for Ghalia’s fight for women’s rights by watching this short film:
As a women’s rights activist in northern Syria my daily life is fraught with dangers. We continue to live under the threat of airstrikes by Assad’s and Putin’s forces – and we face relentless harassment and even attacks from armed groups and critics in our own society.
But today I lead an inspiring team of women and our center, the Mazaya Center for Women’s Empowerment, offers a wide range of vocational training for women as well as psychological and legal support.
I married very young, an arranged marriage at just 15, and later opened a hair salon where I worked as a hairdresser. When the revolution began in 2011, the salon became a place for women to gather – chatting and sharing their opinions and ideas for the future. The idea to start the women’s center was born.
At first we huddled in shelters under aerial bombardment by the Syrian regime and Russia. We spoke of the future for women after the war and how to organize ourselves.
It hasn’t been easy and at every stage we’ve faced resistance. In November 2014 our head office was burned down after an arson attack, and on one terrifying occasion my car was booby-trapped with a bomb. We carried on reaching women with our training from nursing to hairdressing, non-violent activism and weaving as well as economics, photography and journalism.
Gradually some members of the local community started to trust and accept us, but then in 2019 we were dealt another heavy blow. All of Mazaya’s offices were destroyed in the brutal bombing campaign by the Syrian regime and Russia on southern Idlib, which displaced hundreds of thousands from their homes.
We fled to Salqeen in northern Idlib and our lives were turned upside down, but after four months I managed to get a few women from my team back together. We started working with other displaced women who were living in makeshift shelters. They had urgent needs and all were finding life very hard, and we provided training and psychological support.
I know if these women, including my team members, had not been so strong and so heroic they wouldn’t have survived in such conditions. I have huge faith in Syrian women.
My dream is for Syria to be safe so that Syrian women can rebuild our country free from hatred, destruction and killing. I wish for all women, from Syria to Ukraine and everywhere in the world, the strength to fight for our collective future.
To the world, I’d like to say: we are living here working and waiting for a better life. Do not forget us.