The Ladies of The White Helmets Are Badass Life-Savers

by Alexa Salvato

We were completely awed by the work of The White Helmets, a group of civil defenders in Syria who work to save civilians left in the rubble after bombings by the Syrian government regime. Since public services don’t function in these areas, The White Helmets are essentially the only way for survivors of bombings to be transported from the rubble to organizations providing medical aid. We were particular drawn to their incredible work because of the influx of women they’ve trained in the past year.  Having women on teams is absolutely necessary: “In Syria’s most conservative communities, people have refused to let male volunteers rescue women and girls – but the women have intervened to help those who wouldn’t have been helped otherwise,” their website explains.

Ola Suliman, a project officer for the Syrian Civil Defence, described in a Skype interview with BUST the specific evidence that sparked these women’s teams. In August 2014, a civilian woman’s home was hit by a bomb that tore her clothes off, and she “was shy and refused to be rescued by a man,” Suliman said. Since then, the number of trained women has skyrocketed to above 80, and the group has fundraised for uniforms for women and women’s facilities in their centers. The women also took to the Internet to fundraise for six new ambulances, a goal they met. 

Like the men in the organization, some women are able to use skills from their pre-war professions as civil defenders. “In Syria, before the war, women took over the medical world,” Suliman said. Now, some of those former nurses and doctors can work in the medical field again, but those of all backgrounds are welcome. Some women were journalists or housewives before the bombing; in an online video, different men list their former professions, including bakers and tailors, as well.

A year later, Suliman said, women on the job have just as much respect as men. How much they are supported varies depending on the region in which they are working, but they have community support everywhere they go. “We say to men, ‘If a bomb hit when your wife was in the bathroom, would you rather your wife be rescued by a man or a woman?’” Suliman believes that questions like these stop detractors, whose criticism is often based on conservative gender roles, in their tracks. 

What does the work of a civil defender entail? They “work in 24-hour shifts,” Suliman said. When not responding to crises, they help with evacuations, rebuilding of homes, and fixing roads or electricity post-bombing. “We want to be the organization that rebuilds,” she said, explaining that the equipment necessary for rescuing from rubble and for rebuilding homes is identical. The White Helmets find out about impending crises either via a radio network or by hearing the bombing from wherever they are. 

The White Helmets are unique and significant in their commitment to helping anyone affected by the bombs, regardless of what “side” they’re on. “When I want to save someone’s life I don’t care if he’s an enemy or a friend. What concerns me is the soul that might die,” reads a testimonial from a White Helmet named Abed on the org’s website.

Suliman explained that when the regime loses control of an area, they annihilate it. No other people—especially from the government—are doing rescue missions. “Although other organizations provide medical aid,” she said, “no one else gets people from the rubble to the aid.”

So far, according toe Suliman, The White Helmets have saved 21,976 lives. Their newest fundraising goal is to improve medical care for civil defenders injured on the job; so far, they have lost 84 White Helmets.

BUST is honored to assist the Syrian Civil Defence at an upcoming event: the NYC Metal Benefit for The White Helmets at St. Vitus Bar in Brooklyn on August 1 at a show co-headlined by IKILLYA and lots of other super-rad bands. If you’re in the area, you can come out to show your support! 


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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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