A woman displays a victory sign during an anti-government demonstration in Idlib, 2012. (FreedomHouse / Flickr)
This month marks the two-year anniversary of the antigovernment protests that kicked off the Syrian uprising. So far, the conflict has claimed roughly 70,000 lives, made refugees of one million people, and displaced an additional three million. Last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pledged food, medicine, and non-lethal military aid to the Free Syrian Army (FSA), along with $60 million directed to the rebels' political wing to help with the provision of public goods and services in the rebel-controlled areas.
This is a good start, but in order to prevent further human catastrophe and the spread of Islamist extremism in Syria, Washington needs to do more. Specifically, the United States should aid opposition women's organizations. This strategy would help address the current humanitarian crisis and ensure that aid reaches its intended receipts, in addition to elevating the status of women in Syria.
Syrian women have been active in the fight against Bashar al-Assad's regime from the start, dating back to the peaceful demonstrations in early 2011 in the southern city of Dara'a. They have remained actively involved even as the fight has become bloody. I met several of these women revolutionaries during my recent trip to the rebel-controlled countryside of Idlib province and to towns on the Turkish-Syrian border. These women smuggle guns to the opposition and make improvised explosive devices in their kitchens. They work in field hospitals saving the lives of FSA fighters. They document incidents of torture and sexual violence, in the hope that such information will be useful in a future war-crimes tribunal. Whether Sunni, Kurdish, Christian, or Alawite, with hijab or without, these women are fighting for a common objective: a free Syria.
In contrast to some other groups, such as the Tamil Tigers and the armed wing of the Kurdistan Workers' Party -- as well as Assad's forces, which now include some all-female militias -- there are no female fighting squads