Ansaf Nasr grew up in a village in as-Suwayda Governorate. She finished elementary school in the village, then stopped going to school because there were no middle schools in the region and her father refused to let her go one further away. “Leaving school was the first shock of my life, especially since I was one of the top students in my school and used to dream of pursuing my education. That dream stayed with me for about 5 years until my younger brother grew up and wanted to take the middle school certificate examination. At that point, I decided to take the exam with him. Although my father refused, I followed my dream with the help of my brother who taught me everything he learned at school. Indeed, I passed the exam and ranked third in the governorate in the free applications category.”
Ansaf’s success in the exam strengthened her desire for education but according law, she had to wait 3 years before she could take the high school certificate examination. So, she waited the 3 years, during which time she tried to educate herself and read books on many subjects, including psychology.
Ansaf passed the high school exam (literary stream) with results that qualified her to enroll in any major. She wanted to study law but instead enrolled in the Faculty of Psychology after friends and acquaintances advised her against law due to lack of societal respect for female lawyers.
Ansaf’s father didn’t support her in pursuing her education and wasn’t convinced of the need to go to university. He used the argument that he couldn’t financially support her during her years of study as an excuse. However, she insisted on making it happen and took a small student loan (240 Syrian Pounds) so that she could start her journey at the university. Her brother also helped her by paying for any other expenses she had.
“The society in our village wasn’t closed or rejecting of the idea of female education, even though it was a patriarchal society in general,” says Ansaf. “In fact, only my father refused to support me. I received support from society, including a significant proportion of educated men and women belonging mostly to communist parties.”
University education didn’t meet Ansaf’s expectations. She was surprised by the old and dull curriculum that lacked any practical application. “After we graduated from university and entered the practical world, we worked according to our own ethos, reading, and experience that we had gained outside the theoretical framework we had studied at the university,” she says.
Ansaf continued studying and obtained her Diploma in Psychological Counseling in 1995. She then worked in a government body for about 3 years but didn’t like the working atmosphere in the public sector, so she resigned. About two years later, she began work for an association that supported people with special needs.
Ansaf got married to a Sunni Muslim from Deir ez-Zor Governorate. Their marriage was met with rejection from family and society but she knew that her husband was the life partner she wanted, regardless of his religion. She tried to convince her parents of this so as not to ruin her relationship with them. She resorted to her brother, who was an educated and open-minded lawyer, and he helped her get married with minimal problems or repercussions, knowing that marriages like this one might sometimes end with murder. This had been the case with her husband’s friend who had married a Palestinian man and faced many problems, resulting in her being killed by her brother.
“I met my husband through some mutual friends at the university. He was an educated young man who had graduated from the Faculty of Psychology,” says Ansaf. “In fact, I had to choose between the life I had imagined and the life others had chosen for me. So, I decided to move forward according to my beliefs despite the difficulties and the price I paid, including being deprived of a normal relationship with my parents, and my children being deprived of their relatives and extended family.”
Ansaf wasn’t rejected by her husband’s family. On the contrary, they celebrated and welcomed her when she visited them in Deir ez-Zor for the first time after the wedding, which took place in Damascus. She says, “I didn’t find a huge difference between society in Deir ez-Zor and as-Suwayda, although the latter was considered more open in terms of treating men and women equally. However, my husband’s social circle was very much like the community in as-Suwayda. It was made up of educated and open-minded people, and I was able to make good friends with them.”
In 2002, Ansaf was employed as a psychological counselor in an industrial high school in Damascus. She worked there for a few years before moving to an elementary school in order to take care of her son, who was in the first grade and had a health condition. She stayed in this job until 2011.