“Unfortunately, I am no longer a member of the editorial staff”. For a moment, the 33 years old journalist Yasmine Merei looks outside of the window. We are sitting in her apartment, in Berlin, and I can see a shade of sadness in her eyes. She is telling me about her experience as an editor-in-chief for Saiedet Souria, the first Syrian magazine for women, born after the uprisings of 2011. “It hasn’t been an easy decision, but I am very busy and I wanted to start a project with refugee women here, in Germany”.
For three years, Yasmine has been working for raising female awareness, trying to build a stronger women’s public opinion in her homeland, Syria: “Saiedet Souria focuses on women’s issues, but not in a traditional way. We don’t talk about fashion or make-up. Not at all. We are facing serious issues and our readers are normally living in war territories, facing death under siege. It is therefore important to talk about what Syrian women are facing nowadays, while working on raising awareness on political, social and legal issues”.
Yasmine Merei was about to finish her studies in linguistics when the revolution began. Her hometown Homs was destroyed by bombings and she had to move with her family to al-Saweda, on the Jordan border. She started to write on a local magazine, in order to raise some money. Then, she fled to Turkey, where she met her colleague, reporter Mohammad Mallak: “Mohammad was working for a news agency under the flag of the revolution. When he came to me and told me he wanted to start a magazine for women, I wanted to be part of it. We published the first number on January 2014.”
I ask Yasmine, which are the most urgent issues Syrian women have to face nowadays: “There are many problems of course, but first of all, women in Syria are facing death. Many times they don’t have access to the very basic needs of life, like water or food. Many women are looking for their husbands, sons and lovers. People disappear and there is no news about them. In the north of the country, women are living like a thousand years ago, they can’t even walk alone in the streets, they always need to have a man by their side”.
“The paradox” says Yasmine, bitterly “is that women are one of the main reasons why civilians started to carry weapons”. After the revolution of 2011, many Syrians needed to protect their women from sexual violence: “In 2012, my father, may he rest in peace, told me that we had to move. I still remember him saying ‘Yasmine look at me, I am 69 years old, if they come for you, I cannot protect you’. He was worried about me, but then he was the one who got caught”. For a Syrian woman, to be a victim of sexual abuse doesn’t only mean to deal with an obvious trauma, but also to face social shame and exclusion: “Many raped women are abandoned by their own husbands, others are forced to divorce. In the most extreme cases, they are killed by their families”.
Problems do not end beyond the Syrian border. Life in refugee camps is hard and integration it is not always possible. Yasmine is now safe in Berlin, where she keeps on working as a women’s rights advocate in the frame of the project Women for a common space: “With this initiative of mine, I want to focus on four central aspects of the integration’s process: the sense of belonging to the German community, sexuality, social empowerment and the role that women can play in preventing the generation of extremism in Europe”.