Just like everyone else in Syria, the women working in the oldest profession in the world are seeking safety and security. The current instability in the country has had a large impact on their activities, making them riskier than ever before. Many in Syria are aware that in the last few years prostitutes have been working fairly openly and have created a sort of alternative economy powered by nighttime taxi drivers, landlords of furnished apartments, nightclub owners, hairstylists, and tailors as well as lawyers who plead the women’s cases and provide them with safe passage to navigate the judicial system.
For the most part, these activities have been ignored, and officials have turned a blind eye. But it has been the social indifference, with many treating the phenomenon as a reality that simply cannot be changed, that has resulted in the spread of prostitution beyond areas where it had been concentrated historically.
Prostitutes have been affected by the current circumstances, as their work forces them to interact with strangers. Therefore, due to the worsening security conditions in areas normally considered stable, prostitutes have begun appearing in areas considered safer, such as the city center and some relatively safe suburbs.
According to Abla, a researcher and social worker, “What concerns us most about the situation is not the dangers facing women who already work as prostitutes, but rather the women who find themselves forced to provide sexual services in order for them and their children to avoid poverty and starvation. We have registered a number of such cases and know that this is happening in numerous areas.”
“Some say,” Abla explains, “it is better to starve than to sell your body, but what if your children’s lives depend on it? That is when your values and principles change dramatically. In my opinion, this is what differentiates someone who chooses to practice prostitution as a career, and someone who is forced to do so. Of course in both cases the woman is a victim, but, from our perspective as social workers, the second case is more painful because we feel powerless and unable to prevent more women from being sucked into prostitution.”
It may seem ridiculous to talk about the working conditions of ladies of the night in light of the suffering and chaos facing large segments of the Syrian population whose lives have become hellish. However, at the end of the day, prostitutes are also Syrian citizens. As a result of the worsening situation over the last two years, nightclubs have closed their doors and tourism has halted, which has resulted in the unemployment of thousands of employees in this sector, including prostitutes who are partially dependent on it.
According to Jalal, a former nightclub owner, it is no longer easy to ensure the continued operation of nightclubs in light of what is going on, especially since most of them are located outside the city, specifically on the road to Tel Menyn and Ghouta, which are considered flash points in the conflict.
He says,“I don’t agree that the dancers are all prostitutes in disguise; however, I do not deny that some might be. Nevertheless, none of these women are able to perform their activities like before.”
It is very difficult for prostitutes to change jobs and take up professions that generate less income. It is even more difficult for them to find themselves in an increasingly repressive and conservative environment, which is what is happening in many areas. This puts them at even more risk and makes them easy targets, despite the fact that it is well known that most prostitutes are uneducated, come from broken homes, and rarely participate in politics. So, with as the phrase "political prostitution" has come to be used repeatedly in Syria, prostitutes must feel that they have something in common with politicians these days.