Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

"Every Knot Has Someone to Undo It." Using the Capabilities Approach as a Lens to View the Status of Women Leading Up to the Arab Spring in Syria

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

"Every Knot Has Someone to Undo It." Using the Capabilities Approach as a Lens to View the Status of Women Leading Up to the Arab Spring in Syria

Article excerpt


The status of women in Syria has undergone great change in the last century and particularly in the decade leading up to the Syrian Arab Spring. Despite this advancement, many women are still not permitted the freedom to convert their capabilities into chosen valued activities and achievements. This has resulted in a lack of agency to decide, act and bring change in Syria. Most women do not partake in political and public life and, due to the nature of the regime and the socio-cultural landscape, their freedom to make decisions affecting their status within the public and private sphere is restricted. Women have achieved the capability of being educated, yet many have not converted this into the functioning of employment. The conversion of a capability is restricted by the social conversion factors that a patriarchal society influences. However, there are many Syrian women whose freedoms are less restricted. It was found that social class and geographic location have a significant impact in women's ability to achieve their capabilities and functionings. Women born into the middle and upper-classes in urban areas have far more opportunities than those born into lower class families and in rural areas. The Syrian Arab Spring has seen women using their agency and challenging traditional gendered roles within the society, though it remains to be seen what the future holds for women. Nonetheless, women are demanding a more equal society that is inclusive of all women's freedoms.

Keywords: Syria, capabilities, women


The inequalities that women face in the Middle East have been a subject of debate for decades. Despite the growth in the economies and the improvement in the living standards of many Arab states, many women still face discrimination similar to that faced centuries ago. The uprisings that began in Tunisia and spread throughout the rest of the Arab World held promise that women's plight would be improved. In Syria, though the status of some women has improved during Bashar al-Assad rule, the rights of many are still restricted within the context of a patriarchal society. This paper's main aim is to discuss the position of women in Syrian society and how their freedoms were marginalised in the period leading up to March 2011, with a particular focus on the four decades of the Assad regime. This leads to an understanding of why women want greater participation in decision-making and in the choosing of their valued activities, and that the lack of opportunities and agency diminishes a woman's ability to lead a fulfilled life. Syrian women's freedoms are analysed through the lens of the capabilities approach, thereby examining reasons why women's true freedom to achieve valued activities and agency were not fully realised under the Assad regime. However, before the status of women is examined, a brief overview and analysis of the uprising against the Assad regime is provided to give context to the current political landscape in Syria and to give an understanding of the new challenges which women will be facing. This is followed by the methodology used in this paper and a justification of the capabilities approach to assess the status of Syrian women.

Assad's Syria and the uprisings- Contextualising the current situation faced by Syrian women

The Assad family has ruled Syria for the last forty years, under a state of emergency that has severely restricted and punished any dissent, enforced due to the official state of war with Israel. The current Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad was perceived as open-minded, intelligent, with a Western outlook and courted by many Western leaders. He was viewed as someone who recognized the need for a real change in Syria. As leader, Bashar A1-Assad sought to reform Syria economically by building the private sector and creating more jobs. His social reform meant the attenuation of sectarian identities and thus protection of the different religious groups. …

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