Before the beginning of the civil war, life in Syria was relatively different in comparison to other Arab countries.
People of Manbij would freely spend time outside, visit parks and cafes, enjoy dinners in restaurants till the late night hours during the summer months. Women and men would go to places of entertainment together, and they would even join demos against the Assad regime together.
Yet, the situation in Manbij changed gradually in the wake of the civil war that began in 2011 and the occupation of gang groups affiliated with the Syrian National Coalition from 2011 to 2014. The city degraded into a place dominated by sharia laws. The situation in the city got worse with the occupation of the ISIS gangs in the year of 2014.
After seizing the control of the entire city, ISIS gangs formed a system with local people and former staff of the government. They introduced sharia laws and formed their own sharia courts within the scope of this system.
It was impossible to resist or protest the practices of the ISIS gangs that occupied Manbij. The residents of the city did therefore have to obey the laws of ISIS gangs in order to gain access to security, food and service.
Yet, energy and water supplies in the city were destroyed and life became more difficult for civilians in the face of the intensified aerial bombardments of the US-led international coalition in the recent period.
The treatment of women in the ISIS-occupied areas has been covered by the press to some extend. Statements of locals, mainly women, in the areas liberated by YPG/YPJ and SDF forces, reveal how they had been treated by the ISIS gangs.
Young women were never allowed to go out alone without a close relative (generally their fathers, brothers or husbands). Women had to wear burqa or veil that covered all their bodies from head to toe.
ISIS gangs also established so-called Islamic asayish (public security) units that inspected women in Manbij like they did in Raqqa.
A special asayish unit constantly patrols on streets to inspect the clothes of men as well, and make sure that laws of sharia be realized. It is forbidden to smoke and those who do are subjected to lashing in the event of being caught by so-called security units. In addition, men do have to go to mosque to perform prayer five times a day.
ANF spoke to two women from Manbij, Fatima Mihemmed and Rabia Hassan, who had been living under ISIS occupation for two years.
Where were you born and where did you grow up?
My name is Fatima Mihemmed. I was born in Manbij and I live here since.
I have been trying to continue my life under ISIS occupation since 2014. In the wake of the operation launched by fighters of the Manbij Military Council to end the ISIS occupation in our land, I fled the city and took refuge in the areas liberated during this military campaign.
What sort of a life would women in Manbij lead?
Women in Manbij are dressed in accordance with the Islamic nature as is in all the other societies of the Middle East. However, this Islamic nature is not like the manner claimed and imposed by ISIS gangs.
After occupying our region, ISIS gangs created an Islamic model in line with their own ideology. This model is based on a mono-type and and only black-colored dressing. Women couldn’t go out without men. Nor could they smoke or even visit a neighbor.
How did the Rojava revolution make you feel?
During the Baath regime, women were subjected to continuous pressure which is the nature of the typical Middle East society that was always left backward, especially women.
Life for women became more suppressed with the emergence of jihadist gangs such as ISIS, Al-Nusra, Ahrar Al-Sham and Jaysh Al-Islam during the Syrian civil war. Claiming to be fighting for Islam and Allah, gangs subjected our people to massacre, torture, rape and exile.
This emerging situation affected women more than anyone else. Rojava Revolution arose under such circumstances, and it affected me like all the other women in Syria and even all around the world. I can say that the Rojava revolution tore down all the taboos in the Middle East societies, especially the taboos identified with women.
This is why I experienced hope, emancipation and freedom in the Rojava Revolution, and I believe that all the other women are of the same opinion with me.
Mrs. Rabia Hasan, where were you born and raised?
I was also born and raised in Manbij center. I will continue living in my hometown once it is liberated. I will, however, be living in a free Manbij from now on.
What have you been through under ISIS occupation, what has changed in your life?
The peoples of the region were covered with a fear in the wake of the occupation by ISIS gangs that burned people alive, beheaded and severely tortured them. In the nature of things, one obeys their rules in order to remain alive.
Following the ISIS occupation, we witnessed a mentality that ignores women, makes them sex slaves, decides on their dressing and grants them a right to life in line with their own principles. Life for women did therefore become unbearable after the ISIS occupation.
We were trying to continue oır life in our houses and we couldn’t go out of home even. All our life became a prison. We were also having difficulty in meeting our daily basic needs. We couldn’t afford our needs due to financial difficulties, and what’s more the gangs were determining the prices of basic needs as they wished.
ISIS gangs were imposing a heavy tax on the locals dealing with agriculture and animal husbandry. They were furthermore seizing the agricultural products and animals, in addition to collecting money from villagers under the name of charity and alms.
We have heard of fatwas issued by ISIS gangs against women. What was these fatwas like?
This fatwas were ordering that women were meant to marry ISIS gangs and the wives of killed ISIS members were meant to marry other gang members. These were just several of the fatwas issued by the ISIS gangs.
We have seen you letting out screams of joy while taking shelter in liberated areas. What do you have to say in this regard?
ISIS gangs had turned the life of women into a ruin on behalf of Islam. With the joy that our villages were liberated and we were rescued from ISIS gangs, we took off our black clothes and run towards the fighters. We were involved in the dance of freedom and screamed out of joy. We thank all the fighters because they rescued us from ISIS occupation at the cost of their lives.
The peoples of Syria are multi-colored and multi-voiced. Gang groups like ISIS, Al-Nusra, Ahrar Al-Sham and Jaysh Al-Sham will not be able to destroy this nature of ours. No power can fade the color of women.
The interview was published on Firat News Agency.