Azad Zaatar

Produced by: Sharq.Org
Part of the Curated Collection: Multi-ethnic and -religious cooperation,
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Interview Location: Syria
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Azad Zaatar, one of the trainers for the awareness-raising campaign entitled, “Speak, We Are With You,” to combat gender-based violence, evaluates the work undertaken by the St. Ephrem Patriarchal Development Committee on the campaign, which took place in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic.

There are a number of lovely things about the way the Committee works, such as how they operate over a huge part of Syria without any bias toward a specific region. They serve a lot of different groups, whether women or adolescents, especially with this project. The services they provide are varied and aren’t limited to a particular group of people or to a single area of work.

The program in which I participated was quite special to me. It had a beautiful feature, which is that it presented a series of awareness-raising services that together create an integrated whole: psycho-social support, as well as vocational training, and sessions to empower women, including on self-defense. There was a wonderful expression that I heard often, that “this feels like our second home”. Particularly for me as a trainer, it became clear through my interaction with the Committee that there was cooperation between all members of society, not just limited to a certain group or certain individuals. The fact that I was a support worker for the women made them feel that there was a trainer working on this project who was from their community, the one they’d come from.

She goes on to talk about her participation in implementing a project that aimed to educate women on how to resist violence to which they might be subjected:

This wasn’t my first time working in this field, but in general this topic means a lot to me. The women were in desperate need for this kind of support because it’s something they lack and because society puts some huge challenges before them. This is because they live in a patriarchal society, and I’d hear them say things like, we’ve been forbidden to come here but because of some wonderful results and love we’re able to be here.

On the social and administrative challenges she noticed while working on this feminist project:

Of course there were some challenges that made things difficult but we were able to overcome them. Sometimes when we’d knock on a door in order to register a woman for our program the door would be slammed in our faces due to hesitation and fear. But we were able to achieve good results because of the Committee’s reputation and because the women were very happy with the services we were providing for them.

She goes on to talk about the impact that this experience as a trainer on this campaign had on the way she thinks:

I was like a young mother to these older women who’d been denied their rights. Some of them, because they’d been married so early, had been prevented from going to school. Helping them motivated me, it gave me the positive energy to continue working with them, and at the same time to try and develop myself more.

On how her work as a trainer impacted the women’s lives or way of thinking:

For me, the training sessions themselves provided a sense of release and heightened my concentration as a trainer. But most important of all was the love, and what I heard them say: Miss, we come here to forget our problems.