Damascus: Catastrophic as it has been, the Syrian war marked a milestone in the lives of many Syrian women. It advanced their journeys toward self-realisation after being marginalised and controlled by men for so long.
The war shook the belief that women could only be fulfilled through traditional roles, such as being caregivers to their husbands and children.
However, this change was not a result of feminist advocacy, or a strong desire to alleviate the oppression of women and recognise their independence. After the death, disability, or displacement of their husbands, fathers, and brothers, many women became the sole breadwinners for their families overnight.
For them, working was the only option to combat hunger and poverty. As a result, the role of male guardianship declined in Syria over the last decade.
At the onset of the war, Damascus became the go-to city for those looking for employment. Many fled their small, coastal villages – or cities in the eastern and central regions – in search of better opportunities.
The capital, seen as the safest city in Syria, already enjoyed a reputation for being the place where dreams come true for young jobseekers coming from both urban and rural areas.
With the war, however, there was a shift; women began to take on demanding jobs that had previously been dominated by men, abandoning traditional gender roles.
Syrian women work in the building stones industry, it is so hard for the women bodies, but it is one of the ways to live with dignity in the refugee camps.#Idlib #Syria #WarCrimes pic.twitter.com/iz2wuoWtZ7— Muhammad Najem (@muhammadnajem20) August 12, 2020
Fields such as construction, taxi driving, car repair, sanitary and electrical installations, and civil service became more accommodating, welcoming some 2,000 women.
In parallel, the more traditional roles of women in medicine and engineering declined.
‘I pay no mind to whispers’
At a restaurant in Bab Sharqi, the liveliest Damascus neighbourhood at night, Jilnar leans on a table after her long day shift at a government institution as she prepares to begin her evening shift waiting tables.
For seven years now, the twentysomething has been working at the food joint from nine in the evening until midnight, when she finally returns home, exhausted.
She tells Al Majalla: “At first, I struggled to find a job with a decent salary and reluctantly accepted this one. But I've come to genuinely enjoy this work. Tiring as it may be, the atmosphere is always vibrant and thrilling. Plus, I receive generous tips from customers because I'm a young woman, and my employer treats me with respect and kindness.”
Jilnar says people look at her differently now. At first, her working there was frowned upon, but that’s no longer the case.
“My morning wage covers my rent," she says, "and my earnings from the restaurant and the tips allow me to fulfil my other needs and support my family. I pay no mind to people's whispers. They won't put food on the table. My work can – and does.”