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Why Are Syrian Women Protesters 'Invisible' in Mainstream News?

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Since the March 2011 uprising in Syria which saw its citizens openly revolting against their leader Bashar al-Assad, more than 5,000 have lost their lives.

Among the dead are women who have been protesting against a regime which has been roundly denounced for its aggression and brutality on the international stage.

This week Prime Minister David Cameron made an unequivocal statement about Mr Assad's future as President of Syria.

He told CNN he "hoped" the general secretary of the Baath Party would acquiesce to a request by the international community to vacate his post by the end of 2012.

Mr Cameron's comment -- while attending the Word Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland -- echoes the U.S. position on Mr. Assad's controversial reign.

The White House said the commander of the armed forces "had lost control of Syria" and "will go," BBC News reported.

Western and Arab diplomats believe the impasse can be resolved with a U.N Security Council resolution calling for Mr. Assad to devolve power to his deputy.

Although the resolution enjoys backing from 10 security council member states, its fate largely depends on whether Russia uses its veto to blow the plan out of the water next Tuesday.

While the mainstream media focuses on the political game of chess the world's most powerful leaders are involved in, the contribution of Syrian women in the battle for freedom continues to be under-reported.

The fact that they are not visible in most media reports -- despite being involved in the now famous "flash mobs" -- has prompted some quarters to question whether they are fully taking part in the revolt.

Dr. Mohja Kahf, Associate Professor 
at the U.S.-based University of Arkansas and author of "Women's mass protests during the Syrian Revolution: A Preliminary Analysis," argues this perception is misleading.

She points out that Syrian women have been "providing logistical work for protest activity."

"Because women were not seen street-protesting in the first few electrifying days of massive protests especially in Daraa March 18-24, the Syrian revolution was early typified by the viewer reaction, "Where are the women?"

Dr. Kahf also states women have been involved in "day and night protests, marches, candle-lit vigils, sit-ins," as well as "interfaith and inter-sect rallies."

"Women have innovated one form of protest men have not done: the Indoor Protest," she adds.

During one of these events women read statements while the congregation holds up banners and chants protest songs.

In an effort to ensure the individual sacrifices they are making are to be documented, Syrian women have been relying heavily on the social media -- i.e. Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and blogs.

In this context, there are a number of videos of the prominent Syrian actress turned activist Fadwa Soliman on YouTube.

She belongs to the country's Alawite sect -- the minority religion to which most of the regime belongs.

Last December, Al Jazeera reported Ms. Soliman had been "disowned by her family for her leading role in the protest movement."

In one video she claims "millions of Syrians are rebelling in order to recover the freedoms that were taken from them."

The revolutionary, who shaved off her long hair in protest, goes on to describe "the torture and killing" in the beleaguered country before calling on Canada to encourage the world's most powerful nations to intervene.

Facebook pages also detail a bloody roll call of the females -- young and old -- who have been killed in the mass revolt so far.

So why is there a dearth of mainstream news coverage on Syrian women protesters? There are a number of possible contributing factors.

One reason could be the fact that western journalists are severely restricted inside the country so corroborating claims is difficult.

The reason may also lie in how news is managed.

When Kira Cochrane, features writer for the Guardian, examined the British media she found that "in a typical month, 78 percent of newspaper articles are written by men, 72 percent of Question Time contributors are men and 84 percent of reporters and guests on BBC Radio 4's Today show are men."

Furthermore, women linked to protesters are being singled out by government forces, according to Syrian/Palestinian American and Michigan based lawyer Muna Jondy.

She told Christa Blackmon, Social Media Editor for Aslan Media, of one incident where "the wives of democracy activists were being stripped and forced to parade the streets of their town until their husbands surrendered themselves into the hands of the government."

Ms. Blackmon goes onto to state that because journalists inside Syria face many restrictions "it may be a long time before we uncover the full extent of the gender violence."

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