A private, nonprofit organization founded by 11 women in Syria and focused on women, youth and education illustrates the possibility that private efforts and Syrian-led philanthropy and volunteerism may play a growing role in that country.
The women founded the organization, Hayat, a little over two years ago in the midst of Syria’s ongoing war and the economic and social repercussions of that war on the Syrians.
Those repercussions still exist. Although in Damascus, the direct effects of the conflict and the number of checkpoints are decreasing, the electricity supply is inconsistent and shortages of fuel are affecting people’s ability to cook, heat their homes, and drive their cars.
The women chose the name Hayat, which means “life” in Arabic, in the hope that their nongovernmental organization would reflect their desire to live responsibly and to challenge the death the war brought to their country.
“We believe in the role of women as a key partner in building societies,” said Alia Omran, one of the association’s founders, during a visit to the United Kingdom. “Syrian women have always been active in their families and societies. During the war, they took on new responsibilities and many have become the main breadwinners and often the only one for their families. We wanted to help women through psychological support and legal empowerment.”
Omran recently visited six universities in the United Kingdom and spoke at the British Council offices in a tour sponsored by the British Council and organized by Al-Fanar Media and the British Council.
In Syria, the proportion of women in the population rose from 49 percent in 2010 to 60 percent in 2016, according to Hassan al-Nuri, the minister of administrative development.
Many men have died in the conflict or have fled the country to avoid military service. The high proportion of women in the current population “necessitates an increased attention to rehabilitation and developing their [women’s] abilities and skills and their working in various sectors,” al-Nuri said.
A report published by UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, in June 2014 warned that “tens of thousands of Syrian women are in the midst of hardship, isolation and anxiety and left to struggle to survive in a deadly war.”
Hayat’s diverse programs seek to develop the skills of Syrian women so they can become “leading, influential, and able to get significant material and moral opportunities” in Syrian society, said Omran. The organization is trying to this by, for example, raising women’s awareness of their rights under Syrian law, including the knowledge that sexual assault is illegal and that girls have the right to refuse early marriage.