Last week, the independent Syrian organization Women Now for Development, which runs three centers for women in Eastern Ghouta, published a press release titled "International Women’s Day under siege, chlorine and napalm."
"Even from these dark cellars and bunkers, messages reach us daily, updating us about the situation, and showing women’s strength and leadership," the release reads. "We have been publishing the stories and providing a platform for these women to share their fears, thoughts and hopes."
As the violence has escalated in Eastern Ghouta, the social media accounts of Women Now and many other Syrian NGOs have been transformed into news bulletins. And the major providers of the dispatches published on such sites are women. "On this day on which we celebrate women's achievements," the Women Now press release concludes, "we should not forget those who have been forced into darkness."
In mid-February, the Syrian regime under President Bashar al-Assad, together with its Russian allies, launched a brutal offensive to recapture Eastern Ghouta, an operation that has killed more than 1,000 people so far. The area is located 10 kilometers outside of Damascus and is one of the last rebel-held areas in Syria. It has been under siege by the regime for almost five years. The situation for the almost 400,000 people still trapped in Eastern Ghouta is extremely dire and worsening day by day due to the constant bombing and the lack of food, drinking water and medical supplies. Many women and children are stuck in underground shelters with no access to sunlight and basic needs. But despite all the hardships, the women of Eastern Ghouta continue to support their children and others – and to share the horrors they and their neighbors are experiencing with the outside world through social media channels.
And while male photographers and cameramen are capturing the visuals of the suffering in Ghouta, the women are telling the stories behind that footage.
One of those women is Nivin Hotary, an activist who posts daily diary entries to Facebook from a makeshift, underground shelter in Eastern Ghouta which she calls "the prison." On March 8, or, according to her own calendar, "Day 18 in basements," she wrote: "I salute all women of the world on International Women's Day, and I extend my condolences to our women for such a shameful world."
Just a couple of months ago, most Syrians had never heard her name. Now, her posts and stories are not only all over activist newsfeeds, but they are also frequently quoted in the international mainstream media.
Faten Abu Fares, 54, is also an activist in Eastern Ghouta. She was injured by bomb shrapnel on the same day that Nivin posted her Women’s Day message. Faten holds a bachelor's degree in English Literature from the University of Damascus, but for the last four years, she has been running a public kitchen in the town of Harsta in Eastern Ghouta, where she cooks, oversees operations, purchases supplies and drives a Suzuki to distribute help to people who need it.
Even now, a time when much of the population is hiding out in the basements and shelters, everyone in Eastern Ghouta knows that Faten will cook for them and risk her life to deliver food to those in need. And they are not mistaken: The day after Faten was injured, she was back in her kitchen cooking again, despite her bandages.