When the women of Mazaya cried "I am no longer a liability, I am an asset" two years ago, it may have seemed like a shout into the void. Amid the howling of war and the restrictions of a conservative community, women's voices are rarely, if ever heard. Today however, the Mazaya Center with its empowering message is a vital component of the civil movement in Kafranbel, and its story is that of courage and endless perseverance.
The Mazaya Center was founded in June 2013 to train dozens of women in workshops ranging from literacy to first aid, sewing, languages and computer skills. The trainings aim to empower women and help them achieve financial independence in the context of the increasing threats posed by extremists groups.
The presence of fundamentalist forces in Kafranbel was slowly suffocating the peaceful movement and alienating the women of the town. In response the women of Mazaya wove the biggest Syrian revolution flag, sending a powerful message to those trying to diminish women's roles and voices.
"We are sending a message to Daesh as well as our fellow revolutionary men, to remind them of how much women have sacrificed in the struggle for a civil state where men and women have equal rights,” one of the founders of the initiative said to SyriaUntold.
The initiative was also an attempt to reassert the revolutionary flag as a symbol, in the face of the black flags of groups like Daesh. “A symbol of what we demanded in 2011, and what we still demand today.”
On the night of November 10, 2014, the center of Mazaya, located five stories underground, was burnt down. Although no one was able to identify the perpetrators, the people of Kafranbel point the finger at the radical groups occupying the city. Apparently, these tireless efforts to raise awareness among women were deemed a threat.
Nour, head of Mazaya, described the incident saying “It was 3 in the morning. When the neighbors smelled smoke they went down to the center. It was on fire. Everything was black, especially the room where the library was.”
To the women of Mazaya however, submission was not an option. In the matter of hours, they started rehabilitating the center, cleaning the books from smoke and putting everything back in place, as if nothing happened.
This strength stems from a firm belief in their cause, says Nour, who addressed the perpetrators by saying: “Despite being capable of committing such horrid crimes, you are weak. Your language is murder, theft and arson, a language we do not understand.”
This defiance only added fuel to the fire, leading to another attack on the center on January 17, 2014. That afternoon, Islamist militias of Jabhat al-Nusra raided the Mazaya Center and Radio Fresh offices in Kafranbel. The cause for the attack was the latest issue of Souriatna newspaper (printed at the same offices) which included a message of solidarity with the journalists murdered in the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris, France.
Nonetheless, soon after the attack, the women of Mazaya protested at the Mazaya center and reaffirmed that this incident is not enough to silence them, raising banners that insisted: "I am no longer a liability, I am an asset. We are here to stay."