It has been more than six years since the start of the civil war in Syria. Since then, there have been many lost lives, numerous casualties, mass destruction of property, depletion of resources and the breaking of families and morales. The fate of the innocent lives in the area is heartbreaking, as many civilians get caught in the cross-fire between the rebels and the government, raising the total civilian death count to about half a million. Since the streets are full of rubble and militia on patrol, there is no space for solid careers or professions. But time stops for no one and life must go on. Men scourge the streets in shadows, sifting through the debris for metals and parts they could potentially sell. Women, in the meantime, clean and wash the clothing and dishes, while simultaneously raising the children. The filthy living conditions and the lack of trained medics allow for a greater chance of infection and provide an unsuitable environment for recovering from wounds and injuries. Many of the children in the area are now part of a lost generation whose dreams and ambitions have been annihilated by the war’s deprivations. The bright futures of the Syrian girls are especially bleak.
There are millions of girls who have been stripped of their potential and left to endure trafficking, violence and early marriage. Bushra is a mother of two at the young age of 16 who is actively facing these hardships. She said, "I finished my ninth grade, I wanted to carry on my studies, I wanted to be a flight attendant.” Bushra agreed to an early marriage in hopes for protection as her family had to flee from Aleppo. She said, "I want my son to be an engineer like my uncle ...and my daughter to be a teacher.” The war leaves her no choice but to focus on the dreams of her kids as hers are now shot. Her case is not unique as many families are increasingly choosing to marry off their daughters at a young age. The Malala Fund noted that "the rate of early and forced marriage among Syrian refugee girls in Jordan has doubled since the start of the conflict: one-third of registered marriages among Syrian refugees in the first quarter of 2014 involved girls under the age of 18."
Many parts of Syria still remain under the control of extremist groups, such as ISIS and al-Nusra, who are known for implementing nefarious rules against the civilians, which are particularly deleterious to women as they are severely repressing. Prior to the war, Syria was known for its state secularism, meaning that women did have a certain level of freedom, but with the extremists controlling the area, women are not permitted to leave their homes without being accompanied, or, rather, chaperoned, by a male relative. This is even worse than it sounds, because most men either spend their days salvaging for profit or fighting, essentially placing women under house arrest. About 250,000 Syrians have been killed in combat, leaving many women as the head of their households. Women are now further burdened and are largely underrepresented at diplomatic negotiations. Such underrepresentation outcomes then do not account for the needs of women, furthering the injustices faced by them.
When men and women unite in attempts to protest, they are detained and accused of “undermining” President Bashar al-Assad. When detained, they are beaten and arrested until they confess to the false accusations. While both men and women are arrested, the detainment asserts a different problem for women as they are the sole caretakers for the children. When mass arrests are made, similar to that of November 2016, when more than 769 women and girls were arrested at government checkpoints, hundreds of children are left alone back at home. Within days, the children are faced with hunger, malnutrition, illnesses, fear and fatigue. With no one to look after them, the children are then evicted and are forced onto the streets. In many scenarios, women are simply used as tokens of negotiating. If the authorities are looking for select male members of the family and fail to find them at home, they proceed to take the females and go on to torture them. Life out of detainment hardly ever returns to “normal.” Female survivors of arrests are thought to bring disgrace upon their families and communities explicitly due to the stigma encompassing sexual assault. This naturally marginalizes women, who then cannot speak out about the pain and trauma they have faced behind bars and thus cannot visit psychologists or therapists in order to once more integrate into society. The fate of women and children in Syria is, unfortunately, an unknown and dark one.
Harleen Singh is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in cell biology and neuroscience. Her column, "Got Rights?", runs on alternate Wednesdays.
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