Human Rights

The rehabilitation of women in Raqqa following ISIS' era of tyranny

Syria

Women are now playing an active role in civil society in order to promote awareness of their rights in the city of Raqqa as well as across Syria.

The city of Raqqa was liberated from ISIS occupation in October 2017 after three years as the group’s main stronghold in Syria. Before ISIS, Raqqa was known for its rich culture and history as well as its religious diversity. Before the group’s genocidal campaign against religious minorities, the city had a sizeable Christian (approximately 10% of the population) and Alawite population. However, after three years of ISIS rule and widespread destruction, the complexion of the city has utterly and irreversibly changed.

Upon taking control of the city, ISIS went on to massacre its Shia and Alawite population, destroy mosques and churches, and enforced draconian restrictions on the people. The militants sapped the life and culture out of Raqqa, and transformed the city into a prison, where misery and fear ruled.

The intense fighting and war that followed ISIS’ takeover of Raqqa has left the city in utter ruins. The destruction has especially affected women and children in the city. Thousands of mothers lost children and husbands in the fighting. This was on top of the oppression that women faced on a daily basis under the group’s so-called “Caliphate”.

Residents in Raqqa have described how the group would coerce women in the city to marry ISIS militants. If they did not submit, they would be forced to endure the most horrific of punishments. As a result, thousands of women are still suffering from the psychological stress brought upon them by the group. Despite the military defeat of the group in Raqqa and other parts of Syria, the trauma remains for many women who fear that the group could come back and take control of their towns once again.

However, the women have of Raqqa have remarkably been fighting against the trauma and are taking on an active role in society as they find ways to remove the group’s remnants from the city. “We have achieved victory (over ISIS) but there needs to be a way to eradicate the remnants of their ideology and their way of thinking”. Women here are no longer victims of violence, captivity and trafficking, or survivors of all that, but they are now activists in civil society organisations and local peacemakers.