By Souad Khibiyeh
She was kneeling down in front of that grave, weeping bitterly, and whispering in a quivering voice “Thank God, my sister was martyred and, relieved. No more striving to feed her five children who died with her in the shelling”.
She rose her hands to the sky and said, “Please God, let my children and I be next, let us die and rest”. That was Om Essam, a widow in her forties, from Al-Hajar Al-Aswad in the south of Damascus.
Numbers published by feminist foundations says that more than 150,000 widows were the victims of violence and the Assad regime’s mass killing policy over the last three years. All of them live under very difficult humanitarian conditions, especially in besieged areas and refugee camps. The organizations mentioned that the majority of these widows are young women aged between 17 and 30 years old, because most of the martyred husbands are between 20 and 35.
All of life’s responsibilities have shifted to these women, who have found themselves with no support or help, help that should automatically be offered to this weak and vulnerable strata of society by international humanitarian organizations during war time.
Safaa Al-Derany, 25 years old, is a widow with three children, from Daraya city in western Gouta. She found herself with no home, no husband and no means of earning a living. After she was displaced she lived with her brother and his family — eight kids and three adults in a house of just two small rooms. Safaa also suffers from high blood pressure and diabetes. Yet she had found no organization to help her.
Amid the rubble in destroyed Douma city, women have suddenly found themselves alone and broken, overwhelmed by hunger, the threat of chemical weapons, and daily suffering. Some of them have chosen to leave the city with their children, but thousands remain under siege. Most of those widows are in the prime of their lives, a factor which, according to Khaled – a member of the Orphan Care Office in Douma – is an added burden on the stricken city, and their families.
Nour, a 23-year-old activist from the city, helps give a voice to these desperate widows. There is almost a complete absence of specialist civilian and humanitarian organizations which cater to this group of people, leaving the role entirely to volunteers from the city.
Houda, 39 years old, is a widow and a mother of four children. Her family has no income except for 3,000 Syrian pounds, received as charity, which does not even cover the cost of bread for a few days.
She risks her life by selling handmade woolen products outside of the city, having to pass through four military checkpoints each way. She has been sexually assaulted and insulted more than once, and been forced to wait for hours at a time, once for nine hours, under the sun, and not without harassment, before she was allowed to pass.
Across Syria, widows share many similarities. But the psychological situation is the worst and has the most negative impact on their lives. With no suitable organization to care for them, psychological therapy becomes an impossible luxury for these women, says Nour.
This is all on top of the tragedy of losing their husbands, often as young women. Zainab is one of them, who lost her husband at 18. From Arbeen in the Damascus suburbs of eastern Gouta, those who know her say she has become aggressive, even with those most close to her.
Having given birth to her first child shortly after her husband was martyred, she said that she cannot learn how to forget. She lost her husband, along with five of her family members in a shelling over their house. And although she survived she has to live with this continuous psychological fatigue.
Abeer, who is 26, was crying while she said goodbye to her three children, handing them over to a relative of her husband who died a year and a half ago in a mortar shelling. She is now going to marry a 70-year-old man as she says that this is the only way to save her children, and that she will take them to her new husband’s country, elsewhere in the region, after finishing their papers.
In yet another tragic example, Asmaa, 19, lost the power of speech after watching her husband being executed at a military checkpoint.
All these women are alone, with no provider, work or hope.