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We Must All Do Our Bit Against Assad; You Too, Asma

Posted: 05/15/2012 10:41 am

She cannot just lapse into the "I am just the spouse" role.

Today we are all real-time witnesses to what is happening in the world and this puts us in a position of responsibility. Those courageous Syrians uploading videos to YouTube about the horrendous violence they face every day are risking their lives. They hope we will not only watch, but react.

We set up an online petition to Asma Assad, wife of Bashar Assad, in which we urged her to stand up for peace in Syria. It was accompanied by the film Stop Being a Bystander, which poses the question: "When your children ask you what did you do to stop the bloodshed, what will your answer be?" We still hope she will say: "I waited too long to speak out for peace, but in the end I did."

The idea caught immediate fire and almost instantly we had people signing the petition. One of the greatest and moving surprises was to see others ignited by the same passion and, independently of our own efforts, translate the petition into other languages. At one Spanish language website over 47,000 signatures were collected, proving not only the power of social media and viral campaigns but more importantly the collective demand to stop the violence in Syria. Voices in their thousands wanted to be heard on this issue. All together nearly 85,000 people from all over the world appealed to the wife of the Syrian leader. We hope Asma Assad was listening.

Our objective was to gather global support from other women to pressure Asma as a former modernizer to use her influence in her own right. The global response was beyond our expectations: in less than a month more than 37,500 people, including a large number of men, have supported the original Change.org appeal. We received signatures from 167 countries. Every signature is important, but it is noticeable how many have come from Syria, as well as from China, Russia and Iran.

Nearly 300,000 people, including thousands of Syrians, watched the film on YouTube. Asma has not reacted to this petition, and we did not expect a direct response, but there is no doubt that she has got the message. It is not too late for action.

Women who seek and assume responsibility in their societies cannot relinquish it when the situation gets difficult by lapsing into the "I am just the spouse" role. Does Asma, who used to be an asset for the Assad regime, want to be remembered as a second Elena Ceausescu of the Middle East?

We know that speaking out is a dilemma for her. We know that it is a risk. But somebody within the regime needs to stand up for the women and children of Syria.

A growing number of people in civil society are refusing to remain passive observers in the face of government-sponsored violence around the world. Maybe they think that if that happened in their country they would want others not to look away, but to try to help as best they could, Civil society cannot offer protection, but it can stimulate a public response. It can appeal to the perpetrators and bystanders to stop the bloodshed. It can offer hope to the victims, who cannot speak up for themselves.

Is that enough? No, of course not. But each of us should do what little we can to raise our voice.

Sheila Lyall Grant and Huberta von Voss are wives of the British and German Ambassadors to the UN.

 
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