As the World Celebrates Gains for Women, Syria Measures Women’s Losses

On the morning of March 9 this year, a few men carried an empty coffin through the streets, topped with the picture of a young woman, Wesam, 22 years old

Every day on March 8, the world celebrates International Women’s Day, and the next day, on March 9, everything returns back to the same state as before: the violence, persecution and discrimination against women all occurring as if Women’s Day had not just happened.

 

In Syria, not even this one day has been celebrated over the last three years, so March 8 itself has become an ordinary day in which not only violence, persecution and discrimination against women occur, but also a day in which kidnapping, arrests and killing do not cease.

 

Many countries around the world use this international day to demonstrate the gains that women in their society are making, be those gains political, social, economic, cultural or professional, or the introduction of fairer legislation, offering women greater opportunities and empowerment.

 

However in Syria it appears we are competing to show how many women have been detained and killed, or the number of girls who have been raped and kidnapped. According to the Syrian Human Rights Organization [does she mean Syrian Observatory for Human Rights? – ed], around 30,000 women have been killed since the start of the conflict, three years ago, confirming the names of 6,515 of the victims.

 

Funeral for a Missing Woman

 

On the morning of March 9 this year, a few men carried an empty coffin through the streets, topped with the picture of a young woman, “Wesam, 22 years old.” She had been kidnapped a month and a half previously by an unknown group which was asking her father for a large ransom. Her father eventually managed to collect the money and went to the kidnappers to exchange it with his daughter. But as the family waited for him to return with the daughter, he instead arrived with a video clip showing her dead, but no body.

 

The tragic incident was hushed up into obscurity, but people continue to discuss how Wesam died, and the rumors do not exclude the possibility that the father himself killed her, perhaps for reasons related to her maybe being raped by her kidnappers.

 

So the small funeral saw her empty coffin carried through the streets, and ritual prayers held, for this still-missing woman, and the circumstances of her death remain an unknown.

 

General Situation for Women Deteriorating

 

Asides from violence against women, the general situation is deteriorating in many other ways. Reproductive health has fallen to unprecedented levels, and the number of women dying during childbirth or because of pregnancy-related complications has increased.

 

This is partly due to the greatly reduced level of health services, as many centers and staff have stopped working. Because of the security situation it is also often incredibly difficult to travel to hospitals, and for lack of other options, many women are turning to traditional midwifery practices.

 

Dr. Rudinah, a gynecologist recently displaced from Homs, commented on the situation.

 

“Women have had to resort to midwives again, after the profession had almost become extinct. Many deaths have been documented, of mothers and of preterm infants, because of errors committed by these unqualified midwives.”

 

She adds, “Women do not have, especially in rural areas, the option not to give birth in these circumstances, so they are forced to go through such experiences, and often have to pay a very high price, by sacrificing their own life, or the lives of their children.”

 

Women students who remain in college are also suffering, partly due to their commitment to their studies. They often avoid traveling alone, or taking a taxi to university, for fear of being kidnapped, so have to walk together to school. It is also rare to see female students present in afternoon lectures, as they do not want to return home late, possibly in compliance with the wishes of their parents.

 

This 2014 Women’s Day has undoubtedly been the worst for Syrian women thus far. And perhaps one of the most serious aspects is that many Syrians are becoming accustomed to seeing women living in such miserable conditions, accompanied by an apathy or indifference to the problem. Many are accepting it as a reality that cannot now be challenged. This against a backdrop of more and more women being arbitrarily arrested and sentenced to life in prison, or those women who have no shelter but for public parks and roads.

 

From the security situation, to education, healthcare and violence, Syrian women are suffering.

 

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