A newly-opened academy in Raqqa aims to empower local women by educating them in matters of politics, society and governance.
The province of Raqqa was once virtually synonymous with ISIS, having been the group’s capital city in Syria where one of the places it governed the longest. The group’s rule was particularly harsh on women who were subjected to strict controls on their appearance and behaviour. Any infraction was punished brutally. It is thus fitting that it is in Raqqa that an academy has opened, aimed at countering not only the principles promulgated by ISIS but the societal attitudes that allowed such principles to flourish.
The academy, which is supported by the Raqqa Civilian Council, has a number of objectives. First off, it aims to educate girls and women in a number of high education fields including but not limited to sciences and literature. In providing higher education for girls and women, the academy seeks to counter the societal pressures that encourage them to drop out of education.
Next off, the academy raises awareness on a number of social, political and military issues that impact women adversely, particularly in conflict zones. Displacement, loss of traditional support networks, health issues, children and becoming the main breadwinner in a society that generally stigmatises women who work can all have unique impacts on women that are often overlooked, or at least, not addressed sufficiently and in the right manner.
Lastly, the academy aims to provide skills and knowledge in politics and governance with the end-goal of the graduates participating in the Raqqa Civilian Council. The areas under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which the Civilian Council is affiliated with, are unique in the sense that every position is held by a man and a women. The activists here, after all, believe that governance by just a man or just a woman risks missing (or misunderstanding) the needs of about half the populace. The idea is for the two sides to support each other in order to achieve the best outcomes for reconstruction and for the formation of a functional society.
The ideas and concepts supported by the academy here represent a significant shift from ISIS’ harsh patriarchal rule or even the governance under the Syria Government. The educators here, all of whom are locals of Raqqa and therefore familiar with the social and cultural fabric, hope that they can nevertheless address the issues ailing their city, province and the whole of Syria.