Carol Zakhour, 29, lives in Syria and works as a translator for television programmes. She considers the peaceful coexistence within Syria’s diverse population prior to the war clearly evident:
Our Syrian identity was a common ground around which we assembled. In Safita, my region, be it at work, school or university, we never looked at diversity or pluralism as negative components of our society. On the contrary, they were enriching. We were by default a diverse population with different religions, customs and ideologies. We accepted this fact and coexisted peacefully together. During festive seasons, be it Christmas, Fitr or Easter, we celebrated together. My friends used to come with me to church, and if someone asked me about my religion it was out of curiosity and a desire to learn more about others. We always shared rituals together.
On the definition of peace, Carol says:
In my opinion, peace means coexisting in an atmosphere of brotherhood and understanding, irrespective of our divergence in opinions, beliefs and ideas. We should not be provoked or disturbed by others displaying differences. We need to create a safe space for others to express themselves freely, and we must acknowledge that diversity is a source of enrichment. Then we can achieve peace, a real peace.
On peacebuilding for Syria, she adds:
We as Syrians lived through 11 years of war, and each one of us has shaped a certain idea based on our individual experience of war. For us to build real peace, we should take into consideration all these factions of society and their respective opinions on how to build peace. Peacebuilding processes should not be monopolised by one party. It should be as diverse as the experience of war, and work towards one common goal: establishing peace. Throughout this process, we will find that we, Syrians, have different ideas around peacebuilding but one goal, peace.
Reflecting on the role of Syrian women, Carol says:
The year 2011 was the beginning of the massive entry of technology into Syria, and the majority of women back then were caregivers and stay at home mothers, which means the role of women was very traditional, especially pre and during the war. When you ask a friend about their mother and her work, you will often hear ‘’housewife!’’ and we used to hear that a friend’s mother was a teacher… but when we talk about active participation of women in civil society and organisations, we find that it is very poor, sometimes a simple formality.
Today, however Carol believes that the role of women in Syria is growing exponentially, due to technology and access to knowledge:
We want to know more! During this war, a lot of men died, migrated, were displaced or had a disability. All these factors contributed to enhancing the role of women in society, who was no longer only the caregiver but now also the breadwinner of the family, hence the emergence of women in the job market. I read a report stating that the number of women in the job market surpassed four times the number of men. This contributed to a big shift in her role in society. Women shifted from their traditional roles as housewives to integrating into the job market with well heard opinions among organisations and civil society members. We can therefore say that despite harsh conditions, women acquired a better social and economic status, and proved that they are able to fill several roles in the absence of men.