Reporting on the War in Syria as an Unveiled Woman
My choice not to wear the hijab became a constant source of tension at checkpoints
Five long, shapeless tops; a pile of loose-fitting, dark-colored jeans; a knee-length coat; and a video camera. Those were the contents of my wardrobe for more than two years, when I lived in and reported on the rebel-held area of Aleppo, known as eastern Aleppo city. Few things changed between the seasons, as we had to dress conservatively year-round.
In my “real life” — my life as a layperson and not a journalist — I have only two to three dark pieces of clothing in my closet, hidden among dozens of green, blue, pink, and red garments. When I reported from Aleppo, the hardest thing for me was putting on a dark headscarf just before leaving the house after I’d carefully chosen my outfit for the day.
I refused to cover my hair simply because I couldn’t see why “all the women in our town do” was enough of a reason for me to do so as well.
Back in early 2011, when the uprising erupted in Syria, I finally started to feel like I belonged in my own country. The anti-government demonstrations demanding democratic reforms from President Bashar al-Assad represented everything I’d long hoped for: freedom of expression, a free press, elections, and an end to fear.
But even after experiencing all of that hope, I found myself fighting the same fight that I had won so many years ago: the fight not to wear a hijab.
If you ask anyone why women in Syria should be covering their hair, they might cite the Qur’an. But why is this rule enforced so much more strictly now than it has been in the past? The answer is simple: many fundamentalist Muslims are now armed, giving them the unlimited power and impunity to suppress women, whom they believe to be the weaker gender.
I come from a conservative community in Syria, in Idlib city, and my family had tried to force me to wear the hijab at 15 years old. I won that battle: I refused to cover my hair simply because I couldn’t see why “all the women in our town do” was enough of a reason for me to do so as well. I will never forget the…