Band Of Sisters
Mankind holds its breath. Anxiously awaiting the worlds response to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s chemical attack on August 21st on Damascus, which killed 1,429 people- 426 of those children.
But as mankind watches, the woman of the ravaged northern city of Aleppo in Syria fight side-by-side, united to battle against President Assad’s government forces. Aiding the Free Syrian Army are around 5,000 Syrian female rebels with roles varying from military logistics to being on the front line.
Many of those part of the all-female ‘Al Mouminin Aisha’ battalion operating in the Salahaldin district are mothers to young children or teenagers themselves. Um Mohammed, the leader of the battalion and wife to a Free Syrian Army soldier not only took up arms to defend her home, but also to protect her four children.
The faith these strong Islamists hold are as powerful as the weapons they brandish. Donning battle uniforms, sunglasses and balaclavas, each fighter is ready in the event of a regime attack- wanting to witness the dawn of a new era in the country’s history which was sparked by protests in March 2011, with those willing to give up their lives in the hope of making that a reality.
Speaking from her one year experience of conflict in Aleppo, Kurdish rebel Janda Teoplin speaks of what drives her to continue to fight; ”I am here to protect my people, to protect my family first and to make sure that the revolution happens, then I will carry on and be part of the new Syria.”
One soldier in particular has become somewhat of a symbol to the entire region. Nicknamed ‘Guevara’ by her comrades after the Cuban revolutionary, the former director of a secondary school is recognized now as ‘The Female Sniper’.
36-year-old Guevara, who is married to an Al Wa’ed battalion commander, has suffered unimaginable loss; aswell as countless comrades in her Katiba (Arabic term for battalion), Guevara also tragically lost her 7-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter who were killed in an airstrike, destroying their home.
”My boy used to be frightened of the bombs, and ask me what was happening. I said ‘my boy, I promise that I am going to defend your future’. Now, I will not forget my children’s blood and I promise to take revenge.”
Yet in a country where the majority deem it inappropriate for a woman to be a soldier- this attitude highlighted by Um Mohammed who said she came across negativity from other factions of the Free Syrian Army because of being female, are these perceptions still echoed in the West and the UK?
Amy Rathbone from North Wales told me about her background into a ‘Army Preparation Course’ she attended in 2007 for 9 months; speaking of personal experiences and the treatment she received as a young woman in an Army environment.
”I gained respect from the sergeant and instructors early on because for a woman I was physically strong…However, this did not gain me respect from the other recruits who were male. For the first couple of months they were hard on me and after I beat a lot of them on our first physical test it got worse.”
Amy found attitudes towards women in the army were old-fashioned and came across many boundaries in terms of possible progression- areas cut off from her included roles as a sniper, the front line and tank regiments solely because of being female.
Strikingly, in a male dominated profession the attention of those females serving in the military are under reported and there is a lack of coverage in terms of the psychological implications these young women go through- with reports extensively highlighting males.
Emma Murray, Criminologist student at Liverpool’s John Moores University revealed that it is difficult for many soldiers to become accustomed to civilian life when returning from operations- with those suffering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety and alcoholism.
”Just as we have begun to unpick these issues carefully for male soldiers- the needs and experiences of female soldiers needs similar attention.”
Former Royal Engineer (who wishes to remain anonymous) found females he came into contact with, in fields including medics, chefs and transport were treated equally as their male counterparts. Expressing his beliefs on females in the armed services he stated; ”If woman soldiers are good enough at their job then it doesn’t matter whether they’re male or female.”
Looking closely into the cultural attitudes of people which exist between male and female soldiers in conflict, research suggests that the public see the values and characteristics those in the image possess before noticing gender. These findings show women in the military aren’t seen as unfamiliar or unique, but an accepted part of normality in the Western hemisphere.
”We are no different to the men. We respect them and they respect us. We are no better or worse than them, we are the same.”
As the eyes of the world focus on Syria, Delar Perlar’s story and those serving under her command in Aleppo need not demand equality or respect from anyone as it should have already been attained for what they strive for- regardless of gender.