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“We were the ones who were out on the streets, we were the ones carrying this revolution: youth, women, journalists, teachers and students. What I’m afraid of is that we will be marginalized when the armed conflict has ended”. These are the words of Reem “Hala” who recently participated in the conference for the Syrian opposition, that was held by the International Palme Center held in February 17-20 outside of Stockholm.

The anti-regime demonstrations in Syria began in Damascus about two years ago. During that spring, they spread across the country. By May, thousands of students were demonstrating in the streets of Aleppo, protesting against the regime’s violence against its own population in many other Syrian cities. Reem “Hala” – which is one of her aliases as an activist – is just above 20 years of age and was there when it began.

– We started a women’s organization for planning and organizing demonstrations. But when weapons started to appear in Aleppo we couldn’t participate in the same way. But we still wanted to contribute to the revolution, says Reem “Hala”.

Reem “’Hala” entered the journalist section of her organization. Since then she hasFront page of Reem "Halas" magazine covered the events in Syria and reported the news through both radio and the organization’s own magazine. That is a mission with great risks. Last spring she was shot by a bullet while covering a demonstration.

Reem Hala is one of thousands of female activists in Aleppo. She did not know what to expect from the conference in Sweden and she thought that the invitation was sent to her by mistake. First, she hesitated on whether to participate or not – it would be the first time she appeared in such context using her real name – but her friends in Aleppo talked her into it. During the conference she has been receiving many e-mails from home.

– They are wondering what we are talking about, if we getting anywhere. And in the beginning, I didn’t think the conference would result in anything, but now I believe its outcome will be positive. And that’s because we’ve started working together, she says.
At the second day of the conference in Stockholm the younger participants formed their own group to discuss and identify common goals. Many of them had not met before, representing different groups from the Syrian opposition.

– All kinds of people are participating in the revolution: Secular, Christians, Muslims and Kurds. But in Aleppo we have no dialogue. That is a big problem. And I wish there had been more representatives for religious groups participating here, says Reem “Hala”.

At the conference, the participants agreed upon initiating a network for different organizations inside and outside of Syria: Syrian Women’s Network. Doing so, they can speak with one voice to the international community. To gather a wider representation of the opposition, with more participants from the religious groups, is also the ambition in future meetings and conferences.

Now, Reem Hala is returning to a country in the midst of a war. It will, however, end one day. And when that day comes, she is hoping that the struggle for democracy and women’s political participation is already on its way.

The conference, arranged by the International Palme Center took place in February 17-20 and had the title “Women’s Influence and Participation in a Post-Authoritarian Syria”.

Text: JOHN RUNESON

Photo: Front page of Reem “Halas” magazine

Published: 2013-04-26

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