In Syria, decree 121 specifically bans organisations working for women's rights, but many women's groups and associations have met informally in private places for years. In this podcast, women from four different organisations based in Damascus speak to Jane Gabriel about their efforts to improve the status of women through research, campaigning and education. Some are working with social surveys of public opinion; others are in dialogue with moderate religious leaders. All of them are trying to get the personal status and punishment codes reformed. As activist Mouna Ghanem says "it is very very discriminatory....for example the punishment of rape, whereby if the man rapes a woman and decides to marry her he will not be punished, they don't really ask the women if she wants to marry this man or not, she just has to marry him because he raped her, so she is the victim twice".
There is some support for improving women's rights from the Syrian government, but at the same time more space is being given to conservative religious authorities in the public arena who are profoundly opposed to CEDAW. The association of ‘women's rights' with an American agenda and the invasion of Iraq also remains firmly embedded in the public mind. Syrian women are finding it harder and harder to make any progress to have women's rights recognised as human rights, but say "the fight doesn't stop: this is not the end of the story".
Also: One man's battle for women's rights: NESA SYRIA - a national campaign to end "honour killing"
Three years ago Bassam AlKhadi left his job as a journalist working on a national paper and launched Nesa Syria, a website dedicated to recognizing women's rights as human rights and campaigning for the repeal of article 548 which permits ‘honour killing'. Known as the Syrian Women Observatory, the goal of the organisation is to conduct a nationwide dialogue to make the issue of honour killing a national priority.
Nesa Syria is based on the principle that women's rights are human rights and works to promote citizenship. The organisation is building a network of organisations and NGO's committed to building a civil society in which women and men are equal.Partners in the campaign come from different ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds, media personnel and governmental organizations.
There are no official figures for the number of women killed in "honour crimes" in Syria, but researchers believe that there are between 200 and 300 women killed every year. The main reasons given for the murders are marrying a man not approved of by the woman's family, suspicion of sexual activity (whether the woman is married or single) and the desire to obtain property belonging to the woman.
An on-line petition to repeal article 548 has been signed by 10,254 women and men to date. More than twenty five seminars and workshops have been convened and last month for the first time a national forum on honour crimes was held to debate honour killing, it was attended by lawyers, religious authorities, government employees and men and women working to promote women's rights. The forum concluded with a recommendation that article 548 be repealed. Following the workshop, Nesa Syria said "The challenge now is to implement the recommendations of the national forum and to work against all forms of violence and discrimination against women. We know that this requires a lot of work and may not happen in a short time, but we believe it is possible to achieve if we work on a basis of trust".