Women in Damascus face sexual harassment and exploitation after they are forced drop out of education early and enter the labor market.
An increasing number of women, some still university students, are forced to start work early due to the deteriorating living conditions of their families. In Syria, women typically spend most of their time on domestic work, while female students wait to finish their studies to get a job in formal institutions.
In 2020, the Syrian economy witnessed multiple setbacks starting with the collapse of the Syrian pound to an exchange rate of nearly 3,000 pounds against the US dollar, the suspension of many production plants, price hikes, and the implementation of the US Caesar Act in mid-June.
The implementation of the sanctions resulted in suffocating living conditions due to the lack of fuel, especially diesel and petrol, in addition to the ongoing bread crisis and increased hours of power cuts.
The economic crisis in government-held areas contributed to the further deterioration of the already low standard of living following a decade of war, and forced girls to engage in various jobs, accepting unsuitable working conditions.
However, women also face great challenges throughout their search for work in the absence of guarantees and laws that protect their rights.
Some families were unable to secure their daily needs, forcing family members, from students to the elderly, to find new income sources.
Souha Saif, a university student working in a dentist’s clinic in Damascus, said that due to the deteriorating living conditions of her family, she was forced to look for a job, and with the help of her friends, she was able to find work in the clinic.
The student was about to drop out of her studies due to her family’s living condition and her inability to afford her studies.
Despite long work hours, Saif believes that her job is good compared to that of her friend who accepted working for a lower wage, with employers taking advantage of girls’ desperate need to find work to pay them less.
Employers prefer to employ women because they accept work with low salaries, without rights and guarantees.
UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock said that the prices of goods in Syria have increased, and even subsidized necessities such as bread have doubled in price, while the price of diesel fuel has more than doubled since last September.
Batoul al-Ayed [who’s name has been changed to remain anonymous], a student at the Faculty of Science at the University of Damascus, said that her employer required that she provide sexual services in order for her to be hired.
Al-Ayed said that she went to a computer shop that had announced its need for employees, but the employer told her that his only condition for hiring her “is to go out with him to a room with a bed.”
The deteriorating living conditions prompted Isra Fateh, a resident of Damascus, to work in a sewing plant to help her two brothers. She said that her brothers can’t provide their family’s needs.
Fateh previously worked in a sewing workshop, but she was harassed by the owner of the workshop, which led her to leave work. “His looks were strange, and he tried several times to touch my hand, so I had to quit… I justified it to my family at the time by saying that the salary was low, because if they knew the real reason, they would prevent me from working again.”
No sons or brothers
Ahmed Barnieh [who’s name has been changed to remain anonymous], a lawyer in Damascus, said that many girls are subjected to sexual harassment by employers, “especially girls who didn’t have brothers or fathers, who may have a social reaction to an assault on members of their families,” he said.
He mentioned that some employers were trying to target vulnerable women by learning about them and their families to ensure that they would not be held accountable for sexual harassment or assault.
He pointed out that “unfortunately, the majority of victims of sexual harassment and assaults do not report what happened to them because of social customs and traditions.”
Human rights and UN reports indicate that women who manage to escape violence often find their path to justice blocked by victim-blaming.
However, Barnieh also said that “there are others who continue to work despite being harassed because of their urgent need to work.”
This article was edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.