Women Of Raqqa Break “Stereotyping” After Five Years Of Liberation From ISIS

This report by Zana Al-Ali was published by North Press Agency on 21 October, 2022. It has been lightly edited to correct some mistakes in the English translation.

After ISIS was expelled from the city of Raqqa in northern Syria at the hands of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) supported by the US-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, women were enabled to play their assumed roles in all fields and break stereotyping. They are able to compete with men in positions and jobs that used to be exclusive for males during the reign of ISIS which stereotyped women as housewives.

Nada Muhammad, 20, a young woman from Raqqa, did not dare to release herself from ISIS stereotyping as the group stereotyped women into limited roles.

Today, Nada presents a program in a TV channel that covers feminist issues, “Prior to liberation, women’s role were restricted to housewife and raising children. The organization [ISIS] marginalized women immensely,” Nada said.   “After five years of liberating Raqqa, women have become decision-makers. I can say they have become icons,” she told North Press.  

In addition, the women also revolted against their community, as Raqqa’s community is a tribally oriented one. It is a conservative one ruled by traditions and norms. Though some tribesmen are named after their sisters, the community is a largely restricted one when it comes to women.  

ISIS repressed women more gravely, as it forbid non-covering and wearing colorful clothes, imposing instead the sharia clothes made of niqab and a veil. In case of any offence, her custodian (husband, father, brother or son) would be punished – mostly stoned – or fined.  

Nada chose to work in an all-women TV channel to defend their rights and contribute to emancipate them from out-dated norms and traditions, “The voice of women signifies freedom,” she noted.

Nada does not deny the presence of a large number of women who do not dare to have their voices heard, and fear to appear on media outlets, “They fear radical thoughts. This does not solely mean ISIS, as a matter of fact. Traditions and norms imply extremism,” she added. Owing to all this, Nada faces difficulties in persuading women to appear on TV. Some 40% of women refuse to appear on TV,” she said.

Ibtisam Abdulqader, member of Future Syria Party, said, “The presence of women in the political arena is a culmination of a long battle against a society that does not entitle women in many aspects of life and merely channels her into social life.”

During her participation in feminist activity, Ibtisam said the large presence of women from Raqqa in such an activity implies a message to those antagonizing women that they will be emancipated from the male mentality that embodies societal visions based on negative approaches to women.”  She added that the Syrian war and the succession of the armed factions that controlled the area all had their effects on women to have their voices heard. She indicated that the women should make mass advances, most importantly in the political arena and decision- making. “Woman is part of society.”  

Zainab al-Saleh, 30, who works in the Traffic Police Directorate in Raqqa, said that she was shackled by society. After liberation [from ISIS] she has been employed in the military, though loud voices reject this which are against any equity between men and women. Among many others in Raqqa, Zainab suffered from repression and marginalization by ISIS during its reign in the region. They were not allowed to go outside and were obliged to wear the “black costumes.”  

Today, women play their role in every aspects of society. They broke the stereotyping imposed on them and have a presence in military, political and administrative arenas.