This Hotel In War-Torn Syria Is An Example Of Women Empowerment

When I landed at the Damascus International Airport, thousands of questions were running in my mind. Did I make the right choice? Will I return to India? How safe is it to reach the hotel? Assuming that it’ll probably be my last foreign visit, I exited the airport and took a bus to the hotel.

Once flooded with tourists, now, the Syrian capital looked so deserted to me. Inside the bus, I met a local who could speak English, and when I enquired about the deadly silence and empty roads, he said, “Who will come to a place where there’s no guarantee whether he will see the next day or not.” I didn’t even utter a single word after listening to his statement as it had shaken me to the core.

To distract myself, I looked outside and all I could see was an almost empty highway with very few motorcycles and tiny pickup trucks loaded with people on its flatbed. I didn’t realise that the local, whose name was Askari Alsawi, was looking at me the whole time. Pointing at the road, he said, “This is the highway of death, but don’t be scared you’ll be alright.” I didn’t reply but only smiled at him. Being a journalist, I knew one thing and that was not to get friendly with anyone in a war-torn country. In order to avoid him, I closed my eyes and pretended as if I was sleeping.

After two hours I reached Hotel Jainulabideen, the place where I was to stay for a good amount of time. Upon reaching the reception, I got shocked again. This time it was because of a girl I saw standing at the reception. My imagination, in life, of a woman in a war-torn middle-eastern country was about to be proved wrong.

Oppressed and tortured women forced to wear niqab from head to toe with no rights.’ This is the kind of image that pops into the minds of most Indians when thinking about women in the Middle East.

I didn’t expect that in a country like Syria where the abduction of women and girls is so common, I would see a young girl in western attire and working at the reception. After I was done with all the formalities prior to check-in the woman introduced herself as Buthina Qubsi and told me that she was a huge fan of Aishwarya Rai.

After she showed me my room, I asked her how she was working at the hotel. Qubsi told me that despite the crisis, Syria was quite progressive when it came to women and that there are no sorts of restrictions on them.

Relevant for the story.
Female staff working in Hotel Jainulabideen

The hotel where I stayed can be a classic example to tell the world how women can be empowered. Hotel Jainulabideen had a policy, that from the head chef to the hotel manager, only women would work in such positions. Qubsi told me that the hotel owner believed that women were not meant to be caged and they also deserve to work in respectable positions.

Upon enquiring about the reason behind such a policy, the hotel owner, who didn’t wish to be named, informed me that the Syrian war has transformed women’s role in the workforce. As compared to Syrian men, women take more responsibility and are better at decision-making, they said.

Although eight years of continuous war has taken the lives of many men in the country, forcing women to become breadwinners, one fact that cannot be denied is that unlike other Arab countries, Syria gave its women the right to control their assets, own property and manage their own business in 1949 itself.

Not just this, women are also becoming entrepreneurs at a time when the country’s future seems very bleak. According to a report by the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, the rate of female entrepreneurship has risen from 4% in 2009 to 22% in 2017.

When asked about working conditions, Qubsi revealed that the working conditions are not bad but their income is low as the country’s economy has taken a massive toll ever since ISIS turned cities into ruins.

Slamming the patriarchy, she said that despite no restrictions, gender discrimination is rampant. “The problem with men is that they cannot work under women or see them progressing. Their egos prompt them to make comments at us. Thankfully, jobs given here are based on talent and not gender, otherwise our condition would have been really different.”

Chef Mariyam Fatima

Mariyam Fatima, the chef of the hotel, believes that things will one day improve in Syria and a time will come when there’ll be no discrimination based on gender or religion.

I know women are considered a weaker section of society, but we are not weak. We have risked our lives to come out and take up jobs. Women are brave and can face any difficult situation. Things will definitely change for good in Syria, and a time will come when gender or religion-based discrimination will be eradicated from the world,” Mariyam concluded.

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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.

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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.

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

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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