Since the beginning of the uprising in March of 2011, the war has been imposing its deadly beaton life in Syria, especially on women, who are the primary victims of any conflict despite being the glue that holds families and the fabric of society together. A multitude of fighter groups were formed from female volunteers seeking to prove their military worth; women who broke the traditional image for a woman’s role in war previously limited to medicine, cooking, and mourning.
- Female fighters under the umbrella of the regime:
Though the military academy for women was founded in 1982 in Syria, something different happened after the uprising. Its first signs were seen in a YouTube video published on January 7th, 2013 featuring an all-female military march titled “Assad’s Lionesses – National defense”. Afterwards, on January 23rd, 2013, an Arabic satellite TV channel aired a report on female fighters getting trained in weapons somewhere in Homs. They were later drafted to search women and vehicles at checkpoints.
Beyond formal government formations, some women fighters formed factions such as “Daughters of the National Guard”. One of them said on TV that she killed 11 opposition fighters using her sniper rifle in one day on the outskirts of Darayya in Damascus, which earned her a medal from her unit commander. There is also the “People’s Front for the Liberation of Sanjak of Alexandretta – Syrian Resistance) led by Mehraj Oral, a.k.a “Ali Kayali”. Kasab native Sivan (nicknamed Abu Ali) was with this group. In addition there was the “Snipers” division and Al-Maghaweer female battalion where volunteer women would sign a ten year contract to volunteer and enlist. They listed “avenging the death of their loved ones in the Syrian Arab Army” as their reason for joining. They did not, however, disclose their monthly salaries.
Most notable about these factions is their use of RPGs, sniper guns, and tanks unlike other female factions such as the People’s Front for the Liberation of Sanjak of Alexandretta and Civil Defense Lionesses which only use AK-47s.
- On the armed opposition front
In a TV interview with an Arabic satellite channel, Du’a (Om Saeed) in Damascus countryside said that she trains women on weapons and self defense so they could carry their weight in battles or raids.
The first armed all-female opposition battalion -Om Al-Mo’mineen Aisha- was established on April 25th, 2012. They stated their goal in the official announcement video published on YouTube on April 24th as defending their honors. However, it has been previously reported that women’s participation in combat had begun before that time in Dara’a.
In another video on YouTube dated June 18th, 2012, “Banat Al-Waleed” battalion was announced. Its mission was to train “free” women on weapons, first aid, documenting and exposing regime crimes, and self defense. The speaker said that the group had no affiliation with any entity.
Add to that the formation of Al-Nabek revolution council’s “Sumaya Bint Khayat” battalion on January 2nd, 2013, whose aim was to perform jihad in the name of God. In Salah-Eddin district in Aleppo, “Our Mother Aisha” announced a merger with “Al-Sadeq Al-Ameen” battalion in a YouTube video. Our Mother Aisha later broke off and became independent on June 23rd, 2013. Its commander Om Omar -who holds a master’s degree in English literature- said the battalion’s female fighters were experts in the use of sniper rifles and locally manufactured mortar, and their goal was to support men in the fight against the Assad regime. In most TV interviews, she makes mention of the fact that most fighters in her battalion are educated, intellectual women. Hers appears to be the best trained battalion among women’s fighting groups. It is also said that they have received first aid training.
Like the regime, the opposition benefited from the deployment of women at checkpoints as seen in Aleppo by “Al-Ikhlas” battalion, whose commander said on TV that the women search people at checkpoints and arrest regime thugs and other wanted women. Nevertheless, many women enlist and fight with men’s battalions like Om Jaafar, a sniper in Aleppo’s Sawt Al-Haqq battalion.
- ISIS and other islamist groups:
ISIS experimented with female battalions. They established Al-Khansaa’ battalion and invited women to join it to patrol neighborhoods, check IDs, and arrest, discipline, ,and whip women in Raqqa that lack a burqa in public. Reports indicate that most of its women were foreigners such as “Om Rayan” from Tunisia and “Om Hamza” the prison guard. A TV report mentioned that salaries for such female recruits were no less than 200 USD/month.
On the other hand, Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham (previously known as Al-Nusra Front) lacks female participation as it did not follow ISIS’s strategy in forming a female battalion to discipline women, but rather stuck with men to discipline all people. However, a YouTube video published on April 7th, 2015 shows women training in the “Women for Victory and Empowerment” camp in Aleppo. In that video, the speaker gave the impression that this group is closer to “ Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham” than any other.
- Kurdish fighters:
The Kurdish “Women’s Protection Unit” remains the most prominent, well rounded, and fruitful experience. Part of the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit, the armed wing of The Democratic Union Party (PYD), its women have developed a solid worldwide reputation for being strong and steadfast in battle. It is considered the best female fighting force in Syria courtesy of its extensive fighting experience using light and heavy weapons, which is rooted in their long history of armed struggle.
Translated by Dima Alghazzy