Khawla Dunya was born in 1968 in Damascus but moved to the town of Al-Suqaylabiyah in the Hama Governorate. She considers herself lucky to have experienced the diversity of Syrian society. She was originally from the Alawite villages in the Salamiyah district but grew up in a conservative neighborhood in Damascus called Nahr Aisha, where most women covered their faces, and in the town of Al-Suqaylabiyah, where there was a Christian majority. “I experienced the diversity of the Syrian society from childhood,” says Khawla. “I used to go to church with my Christian friends and attend mass on holidays. We used to welcome the priest who roamed around the houses during the holidays to sprinkle holy water on the all citizens without discrimination.”
Khawla had a brother who opposed the regime that was still ruling in the 1970s, and had to leave the country in 1976. This greatly affected all members of the family, especially because the state security repeatedly visited and pressured them, which fueled in them an adverse reaction and hatred for the Ba’ath Party and the government. Khawla says, “In 1987, I attended the Faculty of Economics at Damascus University, and I tried to find out more about politics. The first people I met at the university were members of the Communist Labor Party, which was called the League for Communist Action at the time. This reinforced my opposition to the policies of the regime and my conviction that we should stand up against it, especially with the increase in annual arrest campaigns against students.”
In 1990, Khawla Dunya was arrested and stayed in security branches for 6 months. She says, “Perhaps I was a little luckier than those who preceded me and had been arrested during the previous years. The authorities were less strict by the nineties, since most people had already been arrested in previous campaigns.”
Khawla got out of prison feeling strong and convinced of the importance of taking her activism further. She received great support from her family and father, who stood by her in spite of gossip. Some in her social milieu took a negative stand against as a female who had been to prison. However, the general situation in the country made it difficult to proceed in any opposing activity due to the imprisonment of many activists, and the continuation of oppression and control in society.
Khawla went back to college and worked in a publishing house until 1997. Meanwhile, she met Jalal, who held leftist views and had also been imprisoned. Although he belonged to a different religion, she got married to him. On this issue, she says, “When I came out of prison, I felt society’s negative reaction against us for it didn’t accept our activism and opposition to the regime. Then, my marriage posed a new problem and I received even more rejection from society. However, my husband and I saw beyond the narrow religious context and always loved a challenge. Personally, I didn’t face any problems with either set of parents, and my relationships with them were affectionate and respectful.”
She adds, “Many activists who were released faced rejection from society. They would come together to form a small community in an attempt to find understanding and the security to face the authorities on one hand and rejection from society on the other. This was a society that didn’t have any objective reason to oppose the regime and was satisfied with the country’s stagnating situation.
Khawla then worked as a journalist in the Saudi Arabian newspaper, Okaz. She also wrote for some opposition platforms, especially after 2002 when large numbers of prisoners were released and political activism began to grow with promises of change and political reform in the country. In her writing, Khawla addressed social and political issues, and topics related to the status and situation of Syrian women. She continued writing until 2002, when she traveled with her husband to KSA in order to achieve financial stability.