Syrian women | Mounting injustice and exploitation over long years of war • The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights

Syrian women | Mounting injustice and exploitation over long years of war

In the 16 days dedicated by the UN to shed light on violence against women, the annual international campaign kicked off on November 25 and will run until December 10, Human Rights Day. SOHR strongly feels that the United Nations campaign should ignite the debate on and direct the world’s eyes to the miserable conditions of the Syrian women who suffer violence, deportation and displacement and shoulder the responsibility of raising and protecting children in a war-torn country.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has documented the death of 15,165 women and girls from 2011 till October 2021. Only in 2013, a tragic year that witnessed the incursion of armed factions and expanded the conflict between the regime forces and other different warring parties, 3,656 women were killed.

As a human rights watchdog, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has always called keeping women and children, the fragile and volatile part of any conflict, away from conflicts. The numbers of casualties that are either published by SOHR or other humanitarian organizations have confirmed that women are the most targeted and harmed demographic in the raging war that started as peaceful protests for legitimate demands of freedom, justice, equity and dignity.

Rula Al-Bakar, Syrian feminist and legal activist, told SOHR, “we cannot ignore the strange and tragic conditions that were facing women in the past ten years.”

“Syrian women were forced to take unbearable responsibilities of working and feeding their families though they were not used to work,” AL-Bakar said.

In the beginning, women have faced difficulties that promoted their will and strength. However, a large number of them have unfortunately been exposed to harassment and sexual abuse in places of work or by their employers who exploited their needs as an opportunity to satisfy their sick desires, the legal activist added.

Al-Bakar reiterates the Syrian war has contributed to an increase in cases of polygamy and enslaved women on many occasions under the concept of Jihad marriage that no underage, children, and old females could escape in light of the practices of abuse by factions and militia leaders who brought rampant corruption under the pretext of war and fighting.

She highlights those girls were deprived of education in areas held by groups of Islamist leanings and ideologies, compared to their peers who have only experienced school dropout in other areas due to the ailing economic conditions and displacement.

She stresses women encounter those violations in absence of anti-violence curbing laws and easiness and reluctance of applying the enforced legislation that could protect women or give them the opportunity to pursue their rights.

AL-Bakar explained that in terms of laws that regulate the life of societies and people, “Syrian laws lack provisions that define terms and actions of harassment that require punishment. Also, there are no family or anti-female violence laws though women are the most vulnerable in our societies.”

The deep flaws in Syrian laws with regard to women made such laws incompatible with the international norms and charters and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which Syria is a signatory in, though domestic laws and legislations should go hand in hand with the international ones, according to Al-Bakar.

The legal activist also refers to the phenomenon of school dropout that has worsened in the past few years especially for girls, although Syrian laws stress that elementary education is compulsory till the age of fifteen.

She attributed the growing school dropouts to some factors including displacement, destruction of schools, houses and infrastructures, and control of Islamic hardline organizations in some areas.
Extremist groups stifle women and block their education and social mobility,” she added, referring also to the growing child marriage, a phenomenon so widespread areas held by Islamist organizations where fighters tend to “marry” underage females; and these ‘’marriages” remain unregistered and unofficial. The same goes for the children produced in such marriages. Sadly, some of those unfortunate underage girls died either because of their inability to endure such marriages or in the process of giving birth.

Despite the changes in the latest ‘Family Laws’ which raised the legal marriage age to 18, many marry off their daughters at a much younger age because of the harsh economic conditions, or because obsolete traditions which view girls as a ‘stigma’ and give the patriarch of the family total control over the females, not to mention other injustices women suffer such as exclusion from inheritance and lack of marital rights.

Similarly, the activist, Zahra Al-Kurdi warned against the economic exploitation that Syrian women face in absence of the “breadwinners” who are either killed in conflicts, kidnapped, or detained; all factors add to the suffering of women who deport regions under attack.

These women who arrive in areas inside or outside Syria with no experience about their work and living new conditions are economically and sexually abused. They take the jobs of housemaids or shop servants.

Al-kurdi stressed that “some cases of harassment and sexual abuse are observed, and continue and evolve with oppression and silence of women who find themselves forced to bear burdens of providing living essentials of food and clothes in absence of humanitarian organisations that can aid them to in terms of wages and the working hours that usually last for 12 hours per day.

Al-kurdi added employers realize the dire needs of women, manipulate and abuse them, lamenting that most of the women who accept tough jobs are uneducated and do not understand their rights or the concept of economic exploitation.

She notes in some cases, women chose to sustain their families’ responsibilities and hide their husbands to protect them from the destiny of kidnap or fighting on battlefields either with the armed factions or the regime.

Al-Kurdi unveils another serious phenomenon that complicates the ongoing sufferings of women; giving birth to many children and polygamy to aid husbands in confronting the high costs of raising children. Husbands send their partners to workplaces where they are subject to sexual abuse without supervision or protection. They are forced to work for 5,000 TL which equals one dollar and a half per day.

She referred also to other cruel humanitarian crimes like sexually abusing underage girls even those under ten years old under the pressure of force and threatening; methods that destroy the young girls’ humanity amid blatant escape of justice and shameful international silence.

The activist also referred to child crimes; fathers and brothers drive daughters and sisters to leave their schools and push them for early marriage to evade the responsibility of feeding them.

Also, crimes of honor rise according to Al-Kurdi. Husbands would kill their wives or daughters in cases of rap or demands of inheritance and education especially in Al-Suwaidaa province that tops the list of areas of mounting anti-women crimes.

She expressed her anger over the religious hypocrite men and their fatwas that aim at covering criminal factions practices of rape, assault, or exploit females.

The activist also referred to cases of women who lost their families and proceed with shameful jobs like prostitution, distributing drugs and entrapping and kidnapping young males and females or rich elders for ransom or for trade organs.

Similarly, other girls are forced to marry three times per month with the sheiks of the factions; humiliating crime that really provokes human conscience.

“Some NGOs representatives were shocked when they were introduced to young girls who were completely devastated psychologically of this horrific tragedy,” Al-Kurdi added.

“Arming women as promoted by many countries is not a step to hail. It is one chapter of a play of the revolution repercussions” she said referring also to the phenomenon of choosing a lady to lead a group of women, especially in the southern part of Syria. That lady is entitled to give orders, prevent women to marry, learn, or deal with other ladies who are not belonging to the same group and also force their husbands to join a similar group of males. Those strange and frightening activities cause a break in society’s building.

She added that depriving women of the right of education and inheritance especially in south Syria occurs with ignoring the concerned laws.

Anti-women crimes are conducted under the umbrella of tribal obsolete traditions and individual rulings. When females ask for their rights, they are killed, abandoned or their kids are deprived of nationality.

However, the activist said, “I value women who recognize and stick to their rights and challenge tyranny, even when they encounter hunger and crisis, they chose to reject resist manipulation in all forms and humiliation and to bear responsibility in patience.

She highlighted the importance of the internet and social media in helping lots of women in finding work and reporting any kind of abuse, providing swift assistance campaigns, breaking fears and silence.

Al-Kurdi called on women to work, act independently with no fears to achieve their dreams.

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