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History Of Syrian Uprising

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By Misna Sameer:

The 2011 Syrian uprising was ignited by the concurrent Aran Spring (revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests that has been taking place in the Arab world since 18 December 2010.). Social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube helped popularising, organizing and bringing mass appeal to the revolt. The Syrian uprising and the rest of the revolts in the Arab world reinstated common man’s desire for a democratic nation with a government “of the people, by the people, for the people”. Here’s a peek on the story behind the Syrian uprising.

After gaining independence from France in 1946, the Syrian political scene was tumultuous, marked by many internal and external upheavals. With many wars with Israel and internal military coups, Syrian politics remained unstable till the 1960s. A brief tryst with Communalism followed, when Syria signed a pact with the Soviet Union in November 1956, in exchange of ammunitions and military equipment. In February, next year, Egypt and Syria formed an unsuccessful union named the United Arab Republic, which soon fell apart by a military coup that lead to the re-establishment of Syrian Arab Republic. This was succeeded by various coups resulting in  the installation of the National Council of the Revolutionary Command (NCRC), a group of military and civilian officials who assumed control of all executive and legislative authority led by the leftist Syrian Army officers. The takeover was engineered by members of the Arab Socialist Resurrection Party (Ba’ath Party), which had been active in Syria and other Arab countries since the late 1940.

In the following years, though President Amin Hafiz tried to give voice to the masses by appointing a legislature composed of people from all strata of the society, he was soon ousted by intra-party coups which gave sole authority to the Ba’ath Party.

On November 13, 1970, Minister of Defence Hafez al-Assad engineered a bloodless military coup, ousting the civilian party leadership and assuming the role of President. He tried to control the government and nominated a legislature, the People’s Council, in which the Ba’ath party had a majority. In March 1971, a national referendum was held to confirm Assad as President for a 7-year term. He banned all opposing parties and opponents in elections.

To crush a six-year long revolt lead by the conservative Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, in February 1982, Hafez Al-Assad used brute force and military ammunition in the city of Hama, the epicentre of the revolt. Tens of thousands of people, including 10—80,000 civilians, were killed in the Hama massacre.

In 1999, following People’s Assembly’s Elections, violent protests and struggles erupted as a culmination of  a long-running feud between Hafez al-Assad and his younger brother Rifaat, who had been expelled from Syria when he tried to initiate a coup against Hafez in 1984. According to opposition sources, denied by the government, the clashes resulted in hundreds of dead and injured. This is known as the Latakia incident.

Meanwhile, Syria also got embroiled in the Lebanon Civil War, and the Syrian Army was present in Lebanon for about 3 decades, until 2005.

When Hafiz al-Assad died on June 10, 2000, the Constitution was amended reducing the mandatory minimum age of the President from 40 to 34, so as to allow his son, Bashar al-Assad, to become legally eligible for Presidency. On July 10, 2000, Bashar al-Assad was elected President by referendum in the absence of an opposing political party or any opposition candidate.

Terror and force are the tools the Assads used to stay in power. The al-Assad family is a member of the minority and traditionally impoverished Alawite sect, constituting less than 10% of the Syrian population. They monopolised the authority over Syria’s security services, with Bashar-al Assads’s younger brother Maher al-Assad and his brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, holding important positions in the military force. This infuriated the Sunni Muslims who comprise 75% of Syria’s population.

Syria has also long been disturbed by ethnic conflicts between the minority Kurds and the Arabs. This took a major turn in 2004 when in the city of Al-Qamishli, during a soccer match which turned into an ethnic clash, at least 30 people were killed and many more injured by Syrian police. Many such clashes have continued since then. Brute force and ammunitions were used by Syrian security forces against civilians to suppress these conflicts.

Syria had been under an Emergency Law since 1962, effectively suspending most constitutional protections for citizens. The Syrian government justifying this state of emergency by pointing to the fact that Syria was in a war with Israel, have given the security forces unquestioned powers of arrest and detention. With no multi-party free elections, Syrian citizens approve the President by referendum. Rights of expression, association and assembly are strictly controlled. These problems are further aggravated by discrimination against women and the weak and deteriorating socio-economic systems. Moreover, according to Human Rights Watch, al-Assad has not been able to improve the human rights record since he came to power 10 years ago. This kind of oppression and lack of fundamental rights have enraged the Syrian people for more than 40 years now. With censorship on media and absolute power of the forces to detent critics, the common man did not have a means to voice his grievances. But with technology and the powerful tool called social media; the common Syrian man has finally found his voice, a way to gather support and protest against a common tyrannical rule.

Beginning on January 26, 2011 with a self-immolation by a protestor, the Syrian Uprising marks the beginning of a new era of self-awakening among the Syrians. Demands of the protests included release of political prisoners, resignation of parliament and cabinet, end of Emergency law among others. With a death toll of about 1750 as a result of force used by the troops against protestors, the 2011 Syrian uprising led to resignation of the cabinet and marked the end of Emergency law. Though the Syrian uprising did not have dramatic results like its counterparts in Egypt or Tunisia, it did shake the government and laid the foundation in the process of building a free democratic nation.


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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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