Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: The Agony of Syrian Women Refugees | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Syrian refugee women hide their faces in the Lebanese village Wadi Khaled located on the Lebanese-Syrian border during the first day of Ramadan. Source: AP Photo

There is only terrible news from Syria and the refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey about the situation of women and children. Inside Syria, women—even the old ones—are victims of kidnapping, murder, torture and a host of other unimaginable things. Why are these issues not discussed in detail by the Arab League? They are also a part of the Assad regime’s crimes.

Among the many appalling atrocities committed by the regime, the ordeal endured by Syrian mothers remains the most difficult. Helpless mothers worry about their daughters, sons, husbands and families. One mother, so weak that she could cry no more, only let out moans that made her sound ancient. Overcome with grief, the mother tells of how Assad’s thugs kidnapped her 20-year-old daughter before her very eyes, verbally abusing the young woman and threatening sexual assault, unaffected by her pleas and calls for mercy. The sorrowful woman said: “I wish they had murdered her in front of me; at least I would not have been continuously haunted by dreadful visions of the harm that will befall her. I would rather she died than lived amongst these beasts.”

These tearful stories of women who are missing, imprisoned, tortured and raped only reflect part of this harsh reality; due to the extreme sensitivity of the issue, the women’s families prefer to lapse into silence. The regime uses women to morally blackmail their fathers, brothers and husbands; these crimes guarantee the collapse of the family’s morale. The maltreatment of women—and history is rife with similar examples—is manifest in the behavior of Assad’s Syrian and Iranian thugs, reflecting the regime’s conduct, which has sunk so low that their actions are unprecedented in modern history. Not even the World Wars witnessed such grievous crimes against women.

What is more frustrating is the fact that women who flee Syria out of fear of persecution by the regime are not better off. These women are also subject to blackmail of a different kind, which is insidious because it appears polite. According to a report from the National Council for Women in Cairo, 12,000 Syrian women refugees married Egyptians last year and received only a few Egyptian pounds as a bride price. Only about 150 of these marriages were officially documented, however—in other words, most of these marriages are not recognized by law, or are at best customary marriages. What an enormous figure!

One might understand marriages taking place inside the refugee camps—emotional relationships between the two genders can flourish even in the worst circumstances. However, it is inconceivable that the numerous marriage proposals coming from Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and the Gulf States be justified on the basis of saving these women’s dignities and rescuing them from the burden of poverty and insecurity.

The proposals seem generous, but they are suspicious: many women from other Arab and Islamic countries, such as Sudan and Somalia, have endured the horrors of war and displacement without receiving this many marriage proposals at such an unprecedented speed. Moreover, help can be given other than by proposing marriage. Such proposals do not save a woman’s honor or protect her from the burden of poverty—they are nothing but more blackmail of Syrian families.

In fact, I tried in vain to find an excuse or a pretext to justify these marriages. It is absolutely ruthless blackmail; it is not a chivalrous act. I used to think that Syrian women who agree to these marriages express consent to a certain degree; however, the report I mentioned above made me think otherwise. The fact that thousands of theses marriages are unregistered must reflect a painful social reality that is not very unlike the one caused be Assad’s thugs. Even those marriages that are registered do not necessarily reflect a real consent expressed by the women, given the tragic circumstances in their country.

It is unfortunate that I must say these things; however, I believe that what the Syrian women refugees are going through has exposed the fraudulent chivalry of Arabs, and especially those who justify their mischiefs on the basis of “saving” these women. In fact, they are benefiting from these women’s misfortunes, enjoying wives who were forced to escape the daily trials of life in the refugee camps. Some suitors find in these marriages a bargain, given the low expenses and low bride prices they entail; others seek the physical beauty that Syrian women are known for. Still others find in these subjugated women a chance to act out their false manhood and psychological perversions. Unfortunately, humanitarian aid is not at the forefront of these suitors’ goals. The marriages are not meant to help these women, but to enslave them. This is not a successful business endeavor. It is nothing but human trafficking.

What is happening is shameful.