Syrian Women and The War

Harsh Stories Reveal the Magnitude of Their Tragedy and Courage
Syrian women stand in line waiting to collect aid from relief agencies helping refugees who fled into the eastern Lebanese border town of Arsal, Lebanon, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Homelessness, widowhood, and fear stalk the lives of Syrian women, victims of the decade-long war. Yet they are also warriors and heads of families.

The ravages of the devastating war of over a decade in Syria has torn apart the lives of Syrian women as it turned their lives upside down and completely changed their circumstances, between the displacement of some of them from ISIS-controlled areas and their remaining in camps for fear of captivity, rape, and murder. Moreover, many of them were forced to migrate illegally in order to reach safe countries with all the hardship and losses that this journey would bring, and thousands of them had to endure conditions of instability, oppression, and need in the areas under the control of the Syrian regime.

On the other hand, the United Nations confirmed in a report that violence against women was and still is significant in Syria, noting that 13.5 million Syrians were affected during the Syrian crisis, including 4.1 million women and girls who are of child-bearing age. In addition, 48% of the 4.8 Syrian refugees registered by the United Nations are women who live in poor conditions in the camps.

It seems that not only traditions, norms, and some regulations do not do justice to women, but wars as well. Syrian women in various provinces were the “Unknown Soldiers” who kept pace with all the developments and stages of the cruel war that their country experienced. She was the warrior mother who protected her children, the young woman who fought back to prevent fighters from reaching her, and the brave lady whose sweat was mixed with that of a man and who endured hours at sea and in the woods to reach a safe home.

Ms. Hayat, 37, from the city of Afrin in northwestern Syria, says about her harsh experience with the war and her forced displacement in camps located in the countryside of Aleppo: "We suffer from both being far from our homes, land and olive trees on the one hand, and being forced to live in refugee camps in harsh conditions, with a lack of privacy and safety and a low level of health care and services on the other hand", pointing out that "there are hundreds of women who are heads of their the families after the death of their husbands, and they bear the workload to provide for their children in extremely harsh conditions."

Ms. Hayat added also that "The women in the camp are the weakest link. In addition to the harsh conditions in which they live, they sometimes suffer from spousal violence due to the lack of supervision and deterrent laws."

Hundreds of thousands of married Syrian women of all ages suffer from the problem of widowhood. Jamila, 35, from Hama, recounts her suffering in Turkey as a refugee with two girls and her struggle alone to work as a factory worker for a small wage in order to shelter her family and secure the minimum standard of living in dignity.

Jamila said; "After the death of my husband in the war, I had to migrate to Turkey with two children and their grandmother. At first, I suffered a lot in the refugee camps, and then I was forced to take responsibility for my family by working in a sweetmeat shop, and I was exploited for my ignorance of the language and laws, and then I moved between several jobs, all for a small salary compared to the number of working hours."

According to the latest statistics in northern Syria this year, the number of orphans from the residents of the armed opposition-controlled areas reached 197,865 from among the displaced and residents, while the number of widows with no breadwinners reached 46,302 widows.

A large percentage of women live in various governorates of Syria in a difficult situation due to poverty and destitution, which prompted a large number of them to work in agricultural lands, harvest agricultural crops, prepare and sell supplies, and some of them resorted to begging to secure their needs, especially since the illiteracy rate has increased alarmingly, whereas girls are forced to stay out of school due to distance, cost, and overcrowding, in addition to the fact that most schools were destroyed during the war.

In this regard, Iman, 27, from Deir ez-Zor, said that she was forced to remain without study after ISIS, which took control of her place of residence years ago and prevented females from enrolling in school.


A fighter of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) holds her weapon as they announce the destruction of Islamic State's control of land in eastern Syria, at al-Omar oil field in Deir Al Zor, Syria March 23, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said

She added; "I dreamed of becoming a pediatrician, but I was not able to finish middle school because I was prevented from going to school, and that forced my father to marry me off to my cousin in 2014 to save my life from foreign ISIS militants who were forcing women in our areas to marry them."

The phenomenon of early marriage has reached record levels in recent years, as the number of child marriages exceeded 46% of the total number of marriages in various Syrian governorates during the war, according to an official at the United Nations Population Fund. The most dangerous thing is that most of these marriages are not recorded in the official records, especially in Idlib governorate and the northern countryside of Aleppo, which are under the control of the armed opposition, because the courts in those areas are not recognized.

With the war going on for about a decade, the phenomenon of divorce too has spread remarkably in Syrian society. Nesreen, from Maarat Al-Numan, 21, in Idlib countryside, tells of her marriage 6 years ago to her 24-year-old cousin. She stayed with him for only about 6 months before he left her and traveled to Greece via Turkey and she found herself a divorced woman.

Nesreen said; "I married my relative to protect myself, but I suddenly woke up and found myself divorced and forced to bear the criticism of society and its harsh views," explaining: "There are hundreds of cases similar to mine and a large percentage of divorced women inside and outside Syria, which forces many of them to accept remarrying an old man with children, or to agree to be the second wife under harsh conditions."

On the other hand, the participation of young girls in the battles has received great media attention from international news stations, especially the fighters of the Kurdish People's Protection Units, who took up arms against the militants to protect themselves and their areas. The fighter Janda, who hails from Kobani, says that; "The war gave the Kurdish women an opportunity to overcome the reality and the prevailing traditions in society, so they took up arms of all sizes and participated in the battles with strength and vigor without losing their femininity and their role as a mother, sister, and lover."

She added also; "The difficult circumstances forced the women of the region to receive the necessary training to fight ISIS fighters and defend ourselves to prevent them from kidnapping, enslaving and raping us - resistance was the only way before us. She added, “Syrian women were forced, because of the war, to engage in many areas of warfare besides carrying arms, for example; many of them stood in the back lines to complete the rescue operations and treat hundreds of wounded and injured."

The experience of Janda and her companions confirms that Syrian women in various areas of conflict "changed the concepts and the standards in light of long years of war and patience despite all difficulties, as they overcame customs and traditions, to confirm their existence alongside men and in all areas of life," as she put it.

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