Full name: Nawal Yazeji
Age: 75 years
Job title: Women's Rights Activist. For now: Chief of Women’s Advisory Board
Job description: The Women’s Advisory Board to the International Special Envoy to Syria was established in 2016. Now, it has 17 Syrian women from different places, different point of views, and different political beliefs. It aims to make the Syrian women’s voice part of the political process and empower women to actively participate in creating the country’s future.
Defining career moment?
Joining Syrian Women’s League organization in 1970
What part of your work are you most proud of?
Spreading the feminist thought all over Syria. Contributing to founding a number of groups and alliances that are concerned with equality, women’s rights, and women’s effective political participation in the country’s life.
Who is your career role model and why?
Every woman that knows her worth and is acting upon this is an ideal for me and I will learn a lot from her. That refers to the practical side, in the general side; there are a lot of fighters at national, regional, and global levels that I have learnt a lot from, and their struggle is an example for me. I would also like to mention my colleagues; their patience and determination is a big inspiration for me.
What aspects of your job do you enjoy the most?
Grass roots talk with women.
What gives you the greatest job satisfaction?
Recently, I am satisfied when we discuss a controversial issue about the path of the political process or gender in the advisory board and we reach consensus about it.
Increasing the number of men who talk about gender equality due to the effect of their relations with organizations or groups that I have worked with. Also, I notice the increasing number of associations that are established and headed by women, and announce that they are feminist and gender sensitive.
The key to success is…………
Honesty with yourself and with others.
What do you say to those who ask you how to balance family and business ….
Everyone balances by their own ways and resources. I am avoiding advice in this area because there is no ready prescription, but differently the palace is achieved at the expense of the woman herself.
What inspires you most about your job…….
Success no matter how small it is.
Best piece of advice to yourself/your child/to someone launching in your field?
Be ready to sacrifice, you will barely have a personal life, but it is all worth it.
Biggest sense of achievement?
Satisfaction and gratitude
What do you still want to learn and why?
There are no limits to what I want to learn, I want to learn the diplomatic language and lower the degree of enthusiasm or passion enthusiastic or passionate when talking about discrimination, equality, topical issues and the Syrian conflict.
What life-defining moment changed the way you think about everything?
It’s so hard to identify that moment, but I can confidently say that the beginning of thinking of the world around me started early, when I came across a lot of injustice against people around me and girls from my childhood friends, and I saw it as I read from classic world literature in my childhood and in my adolescence.
“the moment I felt and hated injustice, as well as my fascination with Simon du Bouvoir and her relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre, have defined all directions of my life to date.”
Describe yourself in three words…..
It’s a hard question, how can anybody describe themself? Serious, active, patient.
What kind of journey are you on now?
For the first time in along time, and due to COVID-19, I live since a year with my 3 children and grandchildren and work remotely with my colleagues and office of special envoy. I connect remotely, as much as possible at the same time with women all over Syria and refugee areas, and I dream of peace and security. In my age I should be retired behind my computer writing my diaries, but the war has surprised me and the degree of cruelty among Syria, so I found myself working as you see. Maybe my age and the experience I have gained qualified me to go through this difficult phase of the country life.
Which experience in life taught you most about yourself and why?
In each step we learn something about ourselves, abilities, qualifications, and our ability to tolerate. That’s what happened with me when the argument happened between the Syrians I found myself in a context that I have never thought about before. And I found myself able to wisely handle the most hurtful situations because of the war. I was able to set aside my political position to play a role in mediating a political solution and to promote the participation of women in the political process. I learned that because of my love for Syria and for my warm-hearted people, and I was taught that some of us could kill, harm, and even tear up the country. I never thought I'd be able to play that role.
Favourite adage/motto you live your life by – and who said it?
Abu Al-ala’ Al-Mu’arri says: Step softly; I trust the soil of this land is nothing but the dust of those bodies. Yes, It's the humility, the love and respect of the other that distinguish who knows from who doesn't. I've tried my whole life to do this, and yet I don't say I'm very humble, but I love and respect people and difference, and I want every human being to be satisfied with his convictions and practice them freely.
What are you most passionate about and why?
To eliminate injustice and all forms of discrimination against women and anyone subjected to it. In the interest of humanity and of social progress, I am deeply convinced that everyone deserves equal rights, and a decent and respectful living.
Who or what feeds your soul?
Love. My talents open up in an atmosphere of love and respect and I resign in a work atmosphere of tension and negative feelings.
Who or what inspires you?
The good saying and the kind word.
The values you most admire in others?
Honesty, respect, and humility, even if we are not on the same page.
The value you most admire in yourself?
We just talked about humility, self-admiration is not humility.
What do you most frequently dream about?
My recurring dream is to go home and live safely, although I trust it won't happen soon, but it's a dream anyway.
What motivates you?
Good words and some progress.
What effect do you have on others?
This question is for others.
What cause do you lend your voice to?
At the moment, to sign a document for peace among Syrians in Syria, which is secular, united and sovereign, based on equal and democratic citizenship rights, which guarantees all citizens, women and men, a decent life for all, with equality. That's also a dream that makes me pursue my work in a positive spirit.
What quality would you most like to have?
What do you listen to most – your head, heart or gut – and why?
Intuition. With the days, I've discovered that intuition is just a very quick and suggestive mental process that tells me to be careful, and often my intuition turns to be right, and listening to it helps me to calm, not be impulsive, and in making the right decision.
Hardest life lesson?
The grief of losing loved ones.
I wasn’t beside my mother when she passed away.
Can we have it all (and what does that mean)?
On the level of personal life, we can get a lot more if we learn a lot about ourselves and know how many resources and potential we have, as well as the strong will and determination to have what we want. But at every moment life surprises us with obstacles, some of which are subjective and others which are objective, that stand in the way of our dreams and we don't have the capacity to overcome them. Anyway, we have to expect that in order to protect ourselves from falling into despair.
Finish these sentences:
The future is ….. a dream that comes true
My greatest joy is …..my grandchildren
My greatest fear ……losing my loved ones
Happiness is ……the impossible
I believe in … justice even after a while.
The book / character / song / film that changed your life and why?
A book called "The Other Gender." I was very young when I read it, and read some of Nawal al-Saadawi's books, which matched Simon du Bouvoir's ideas and me living through the degrees of social injustice against the girls around me. It was then I knew that it was a big issue, not just cases and tales: all of that fuelled my convictions and the plans for all my life.
If you wrote a book one day, what would it be about?
My project is "Evolution of Feminist Discourse in Syria," late 18th and early 21st centuries, if I got aged.
An event that most moved you…
The launch of the peaceful demonstrations in Syria in March 2011.
A person that changed your life – and why?
There's not a specific person, but a group of people who have been around me in the different stages of my life.
Best piece advice ever received – and from whom?
I know I've received a lot of advice and I know I'm taking them very seriously, but I remember one that influenced me very much. My Arabic teacher wrote it for me on my notebook when I was 13: "Brave is the one who owns himself when he gets angry, be the brave one I want and the quiet heroine who knows how to finally win," I learned a lot about myself in this phrase, and I did my best to live up his expectations. Even today, after all these years, when I get angry, I remember my teacher’s words and I find it strange that I literally remember his words, even though the years have gone by so much.
What key lessons have you learnt and who taught them to you?
I have learnt a lot of lessons in my life.
When you were younger, what did you want to be?
A doctor, but the circumstances pushed me away from it and I have no regrets.
What would you tell your younger self?
Don’t expect to get everything in the life, but you have to try. Don’t let anything frustrate you or weaken you, as the saying goes: what doesn’t kill you, strengthens you.