The constitution in Syria does not have any articles that forbid any discrimination and violence against women. This exclusion of women rights from the constitution has encouraged gender discrimination against women. There are a widespread violence, threats and constant oppression which makes it even challenging for women to report any form of abuse (Women's Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Progress amid Resistance). The international community has also failed to address this is thus making it also harder for the women to reach out for help. The use of laws which discriminate against women is a major contributing factor to this plight (Kelly and Breslin).
Sexual violence is one of the primary forms of discriminations that women in Syria face. Sexual abuse is part of the civil war in Syria. Both the government forces and armed opposition groups take part in this sexual violence. The government uses the violence as a tool to limit women especially those who are thought to be connected to the opposition. It includes having any form of material showcasing the opponents flag, being a relative of members of the opposition or living in which are termed as pro-opposition. Over the years there has been an increase in the number of cases that are reported. It is however still tough to get accurate data because not all the victims speak out. Some of the factors that make the victim not speak out are the cultural norms, the insecurity, fear of stigma, lack of confidentiality and problems accessing the reporting services. Sexual violence in Syria includes rape, sexual slavery, forced abortion, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced marriage, and enforced sterilization (Lips and Colwill).
Rape is the most common form of sexual violence in Syria. Out of all the cases of recorded by the Syrian Network for Human Rights more than half happen to be rape cases. Rape is rampant in the oppositions strongholds. It mainly occurs during questioning at the prisons, detention centers, and the checkpoints. These detention centers are run by the Syrian intelligence. The security officials in detention centers are the main perpetrators of the sexual violence, and this involves both the low-level officers up to the senior directors of the centers. Several officers also assault one victim at the same time. In the detention centers, the sexual violence is not a secret as it is conducted in the presence of agents of the Syrian intelligence. The most affected places are the coastal areas mainly in the provinces of Hama and Homs. An example in Homs is during the Al-Houla massacre that took place in May 2012. A lot of rape cases were recorded, and this was mainly undertaken by government forces known as shabiha.' The victims say that the security agents in the prisons distribute contraceptive pills each day in the detention centers. Doctors are also sending to the detention centers to administer the contraceptives. The doctors also perform abortions on the women who become pregnant (White, et al.). The topic of sexual violence is a very sensitive one, and it is taboo to talk about it. In this case, it becomes hard to collect information from the survivors and the victims. There are also beliefs about sexual harassment that purport that the victims will undergo honor killings. The Syrian culture also terms rape as dishonor and source of shame. Therefore, families would rather have victims not talk about the sexual violation than speak out and tarnish the family honor. The continuous violence in Syria has a significant role in making it hard to cover the sexual abuse in the country.
It becomes tough for the international media to cover this violence because of the limited access to the country. Some of the women have lost hope in the covering and reporting of this violence. Therefore they do not see any benefit from speaking out. If the victims manage to seek refuge outside Syria, they are also not ready to talk. It is because they fear that their family members who are still in Syria may be punished on their behalf. Women who speak out are forced to flee the country and end up marrying older men as either second or third wives. Otherwise, their family members may resort to killing them as a way of restoring the family honor (Bahun and Rajan).
Several consequences come up as a result of sexual violence on women. Stigmatization is the main one, and the consequences are colossal. Women who have been released from detention or checkpoints are often alienated and are termed as unfit for marriage. They are therefore either killed or divorced because they are believed to have been raped. In case they are young girls they are forced into early marriages. Rape victims are also reluctant to seek medical help because of the social stigma. The victims of sexual harassment are unable to even to tell their gynecologist. They also face rejection and abandonment from their family. The conservative cultural practices and religious norms dont help the situation either. Children born as a result of rape meet a challenge of being rejected by their mothers as they might not want to accept their origin. It also becomes a challenge to obtain the necessary documentation as the paternity cannot be proved. In the rural areas of Syria, women are not allowed to speak freely about issues such as sexual violence and any other form of violence against women (Shora).
Sexual violence is humiliating to the victims. It lowers their self-esteem and degrades them. Women who undergo sexual assault acquire the mentality that they are weak and unworthy than other people. Some of the women in Syria have suffered this humiliation till they become convinced that it is the norm and they deserve this humiliation. The sexual violence also has psychological and mental health consequences that range from depression, distress, and post-traumatic stress disorder. These forms of anxiety are dangerous, and they might lead to self-harm and even suicide (Rajan).
We need to educate men that sexual violence is a violation of human rights of women. The next step should be the implementation of strict laws that protect women from sexual abuse. The laws need to be more severe, and those who commit the offense should be brought to justice. The government also need to implement laws that prevent the forces and militia groups from committing sexual violence on women. There must be dire legal consequences that hold the offenders accountable. The government must also allocate resources to ensure that victim of sexual violence has access to good medical treatment and care. The restrictive laws that prohibit women from getting abortions should also be reviewed. Women who get pregnant as a result of rape should be given a chance to decide whether to keep the pregnancy. Finally, if the conflict in Syria is resolved, it will be easier to stop the sexual violence on women (Ending Violence against Women: From Words to Action, Study).
Bahun, Sanja, and V G. J. Rajan. Violence and Gender in the Globalized World: The Intimate and the Extimate. Routledge, 2016.
Ending Violence against Women: From Words to Action, Study. United Nations, 2006.
Kelly, Sanja, and Julia Breslin. Women's Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Progress amid Resistance. Freedom House, 2010.
Lips, Hilary M, and Nina L. Colwill. The Psychology of Sex Differences. Prentice-Hall, 1987.
Rajan, V G. J. Al Qaeda's Global Crisis: The Islamic State, Takfir, and the Genocide of Muslims. 2016.
Shora, Nawar. The Arab-American Handbook: A Guide to the Arab, Arab-American & Muslim Worlds. Cune P, 2010.
White, Jacquelyn W, et al. Violence against Women and Children: Vol. 1. American Psychological Assn., 2011.
Women's Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Progress amid Resistance. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2010.
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