In June 2013, Ghalia Rahal converted her hairdressing salon in Kafranbel, Idlib into a
women’s center. This was the start of Mazaya, a place to support women with education and vocational training and provide a space to discuss the political situation and issues of women’s rights. She had to overcome many challenges to support women’s activism in a conservative society but won the respect of her community.
Over the next few years, the Mazaya organization expanded across Idlib province to include eight women’s centers, medical clinics and child-care centers. They also opened a library, ran a school teaching women how to drive so they could have more independence and published a magazine focusing on women’s empowerment. In addition, Ghalia also became active in the Syrian Women’s Political Movement which works on women’s representation in political negotiations and peace talks; ensuring that women have a say in Syria’s future.
Ghalia has faced other challenges too. Extremist groups present in Idlib, such as Jabhat Al Nusra, opposed her work empowering women. In 2014 the Mazaya Center was subjected to an arson attack and soon after Ghalia narrowly survived an assassination attempt. In 2016 her son, the media activist and photo journalist, Khaled Issa was targeted and killed in a bomb attack. These attacks on civil society organizations and activists led to wide-spread protests across Idlib demanding the militants of Jabhat Al Nusra leave.
Yet Ghalia continued her activism. In December 2019, as Idlib was under ferocious assault by the regime and Russia, she issued a video appealing to the world for solidarity. She called,
“We are all civilians, we are not terrorists, we are free people who asked for freedom and dignity, but Assad and Russia are the ones who caused this misery.”
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