Status of Women

Dimension 11 of 17


We wanted to learn about the status of women in Syria. We listened to a wide range of local, regional, and international actors influential in the life of Syria. We received a wide range of responses, for example: 

“There was discrimination against women and children before the revolution and now. The regime established organizations for women's rights, but they were only for appearance. The situation for women is catastrophic now. They have no rights now except in the PYD/Kurdish areas. There they have full rights. Polygamy is illegal in the Kurdish regions.” (231641)

“The government attacks women and rapes them. It is worse under IS controlled areas.” (233911)
“Aside from dying because of the conflict many families kill women who have been raped because the family is disgraced.” (238631)
“It applies to the whole society, but even more to women and children because they are so defenseless, and often targeted in the opposition areas by the government, i.e. hospitals and schools were targeted so fighters were less exposed than women and children.” (232272)
“A lot of Syrian women run organizations. They do fantastic work. It's not hard to imagine them as the future of Syria. The violence is current though.” (233121)
“In war conditions women are not seen as women, only as adversaries.” (234281)
“It depends. Women have a reasonable degree of access to the trappings of modernity in the rump state because it's secular. In other parts of the country, even before the war, it was different. They use rape to control areas.” (239311)
“Horrible things are happening. Rape is happening. As refugees move there is a lot of violence against women, rape and domestic abuse, especially women traveling with children but no adult man. The plight of women before the war was complicated, but education was available for women. Rape is complicated in certain Arab cultures. Even now the view of women is probably better than in certain Arab cultures. The Islamic State is a radical transformation for a lot of people, but especially women. Women refugees often get caught up in sex slavery to pay for their children's passage.” (239312)

"The lower levels apply, but 5 is most generally true. Women have legal rights, but they are only ink on paper." (236592)

“Before the revolution, it was at Level 6 [The rights of women who are citizens are legally and practically equivalent to those of men—but the rights of guest worker, immigrant or foreign women are not]. Women were treated as equals to men in education, jobs, voting. As of the revolution it now depends on who controls the area. al-Nusra and ISIL controlled areas are different than other areas. #6 is the closest expression of Syrian culture.” (233081)

Is the killing of women tolerated in Syria? Or are the rights of women who are citizens legally and practically equivalent to those of men, and the killing of women a side-effect of the conflict? Why does this matter in your choice of partners, the design of initiatives, and the implementation of those initiatives? Read more to find out. Scroll to the bottom of the page for more statements. 


INCA DIMENSION #11:

STATUS OF WOMEN IN SYRIA


Top 11.png

The Status of Women in is the 11th of 17 dimensions of Syrian society that influential local, regional, and international actors assessed and discussed through 3 rounds of interviews and feedback, beginning in January, 2016. Taken together, the 17 dimensions of the x-axis offer a comprehensive, holistic view of Syria and its people. Interview participants assessed the capacity of each dimension, represented by the y-axis; higher levels indicate greater capacity within that dimension for Syrians to respond effectively to existential global threats.

Status of women is important because it reveals how much freedom, opportunity, and control Syrian women have over their own lives, and how much they can contribute to helping other Syrians and Syrian society. Based on the 8-level hierarchy described in the question below, participants from 27 influential organizations assessed the status of women in Syrian at different levels at this time in history, ranging from 1 to 6. (At the bottom of this page, you can read statements interview participants gave to support their assessments.)


The Question

Women constitute half of the population of a country. Their protections, liberties, and responsibilities are one component of the development of the country as a whole. Which of these levels of development is the dominant mode of this country? (If two seem equal, name the lower level.) The country tolerates—which is to say, for the most part, has not put an end to the following practices:

1.     Killing of women, or female children, by the state, strangers, or family.

2.     Abandonment, but not killing , of women by the government and their families (e.g., the treatment of widows).

3.     Women are provided for, but are subject to violence or rape by the state, by their families or husbands, or by other citizens.

4.     Violence against women is prohibited, but there are consistent, legally enforced, rigid social rules and expectations of women’s behavior, in the home, or in society.

5.     Women have a legal right to education, property rights, and inheritance, but these rights are not necessarily available in practice (i.e. informal discrimination in hiring practices or salary).

6.     The rights of women who are citizens are legally and practically equivalent to those of men—but the rights of guest worker, immigrant or foreign women are not.

7.     The rights of women who are citizens, and some who are guest workers, immigrants, or foreign, are legally and practically equivalent to those of men.

8.     The rights of all resident women are legally and practically equivalent to those of men.


READ CLOSELY, IMAGINE, LEARN

Read each statement below closely. Assume the person who wrote this is sincere; they believe every word. Imagine what life experience or background might lead a person to have this belief. Whether true or false, this person’s perception is a fact. To move forward on an initiative involving the status of women in Syrian, the reality of each perspective might best need to be accounted for.

This Prime Actor participant sees the status of women in Syria as centered at Level 1, in which the killing of women is tolerated:

“Aside from dying because of the conflict many families kill women who have been raped because the family is disgraced.” (238631)

This Prime Actor participant sees the status of women in Syria as centered at Level 6, in which the rights of women who are citizens are legally and practically equivalent to those of men:

“Before the revolution, it was at Level 6 [the rights of women who are citizens are legally and practically equivalent to those of men]. Women were treated as equals to men in education, jobs, voting. As of the revolution it now depends on who controls the area. al-Nusra and ISIL controlled areas are different than other areas. Level 6 [the rights of women who are citizens are legally and practically equivalent to those of men] is the closest expression of Syrian culture.” (233081

When you can imagine how other Prime Actors could hold each of these perceptions, you will be better positioned to partner, plan, and implement initiatives in Syria.


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WORK WITHIN THE STATUS OF WOMEN IN SYRIA

The thick brown line represents the killing of women

The thick brown line represents the most conservative assessment of the status of women in Syria, in which the killing of women, girls, and female infants is tolerated. Any organization operating in Syria or with refugee Syrians would do well to not casually put women or girls in harm's way. 


STRENGTHENING THE STATUS OF WOMEN IN SYRIA ONE STEP AT A TIME

Aim just right: stop the killing

The green area of the chart, from levels 1 to 2, indicates where projects to strengthen the status of women in Syrian societies, by protecting them from being killed.

If you aim too high: destructive overreach

Projects and agreements in the red area of the chart are overly ambitious and, at best, will be a waste of time. More likely, they will drive confusion and corruption into the country. An example is of initiatives to ensure that widows are still provided for after their husbands’ deaths (level 3). If implemented in Syria, this attempted leap from a society in which the killing of women is tolerated (level 1) to one where dependent women receive aid from the government (level 3) would be too much to do at once! Without first making the murder of women not acceptable under any circumstance, efforts to guarantee them a basic quality of life are doomed to failure.

The status of women in post-invasion Iraqi society was at a similarly low level in the spring of 2003. The United States, however, failed to recognize this, and instead enacted many programs based on the faulty assumption that Iraqi women were at least theoretically given the same rights as men (level 5).  As a result, inappropriate practices and projects drove confusion and corruption into Iraqi society with disastrous results.

Clear examples of the overestimation of Iraq’s treatment of women were efforts to motivate women to enter the workforce and serve in government. In an effort to overcome de facto discrimination against women in both public and private sector hiring practices (a level 6 goal), many programs were enacted to increase the number of women in the workplace. These programs assumed that that legal prohibitions against workplace discrimination existed that could be leveraged against employers in the case of gender-based discrimination or exploitation (level 5). As our INCA platform reveals, however, this assumption was misguided and led to program overreach. In fact, there was no explicit provision of Iraqi labor law prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace, so women facing such harassment had no formal recourse and often felt shamed into leaving their jobs, which reenforced for many the notion that women simply don’t fit in the workforce. For example, campaigns to encourage women to run for public office were initially successful in getting women elected to the Iraqi parliament; however, they were frequently harassed by other members until the only women remaining were those complicit in continuing to suppress women’s rights.  Rather than increasing women’s representation in the public sphere, which was the intent behind these programs, efforts to guarantee women jobs ended up in some cases only reenforcing traditional gender roles.

Background Reading

For more information on INCA for Iraq, read our retroactive case study here: http://sovereigntyfirst.com/iraq/report


Round 3 Statements (Nov 2016 - Jul 2017)

Note: These statements were given by participants as rationale for their decision to gauge Syrian capacity at their stated level. 

The Range

Lowest Score:1

Highest Score: 6

1. Killing of women, or female children by the state, strangers, or family

“There was discrimination against women and children before the revolution and now. The regime established organizations for women's rights, but they were only for appearance. The situation for women is catastrophic now. They have no rights now except in the PYD/Kurdish areas. There they have full rights. Polygamy is illegal in the Kurdish regions.” (231641)
“The government attacks women and rapes them. It is worse under IS controlled areas.” (233911)
“Aside from dying because of the conflict many families kill women who have been raped because the family is disgraced.” (238631)
“It applies to the whole society, but even more to women and children because they are so defenseless, and often targeted in the opposition areas by the government, i.e. hospitals and schools were targeted so fighters were less exposed than women and children.” (232272)
“A lot of Syrian women run organizations. They do fantastic work. It's not hard to imagine them as the future of Syria. The violence is current though.” (233121)
“In war conditions women are not seen as women, only as adversaries.” (234281)
“It depends. Women have a reasonable degree of access to the trappings of modernity in the rump state because it's secular. In other parts of the country, even before the war, it was different. They use rape to control areas.” (239311)
“Horrible things are happening. Rape is happening. As refugees move there is a lot of violence against women, rape and domestic abuse, especially women traveling with children but no adult man. The plight of women before the war was complicated, but education was available for women. Rape is complicated in certain Arab cultures. Even now the view of women is probably better than in certain Arab cultures. The Islamic State is a radical transformation for a lot of people, but especially women. Women refugees often get caught up in sex slavery to pay for their children's passage.” (239312)

2. Abandonment of women by the government and their families (i.e., the treatment of widows).

No Statement

3. Violence against or rape of women by the state, by their families or husbands, or by other citizens.

"There are 4 regions regarding this. The regime areas are level 3. The Free Syrian Army areas are level 6. The regions controlled by the Kurds and PYD are not one of these levels. IS controlled areas are level 5. The worst is the regime and IS. They can rape, lock women away. She can't do anything. The PYD is better, but they use women as soldiers. The Free Syrian Army is the best. There are some restrictions, but only because of the war." (230784)

4. Consistent, legally enforced, rigid social rules and expectations of women’s behavior, in the home, or in society.

No Statement 

5. Strong, informal discrimination against women (i.e., in hiring practices or salary) Women have a right to at least one of education, property rights, and inheritance, but these rights are not necessarily available in practice.

"Before the war women and men were treated the same. It's still there in urban areas, but less so in rural areas because of lack of education. Some families also practice discrimination. Now it is worse because of declining education." (232631)
"Especially in the rural areas regarding property rights and inheritance rights." (238341)
"The lower levels apply, but 5 is most generally true. Women have legal rights, but they are only ink on paper." (236592)

6. The rights of women who are citizens are legally and practically equivalent to those of men—but the rights of guest worker, immigrant or foreign women are not.

“Before the revolution, it was at Level 6 [the rights of women who are citizens are legally and practically equivalent to those of men—but the rights of guest worker, immigrant or foreign women are not]. Women were treated as equals to men in education, jobs, voting. As of the revolution it now depends on who controls the area. al-Nusra and ISIL controlled areas are different than other areas. Level 6 [the rights of women who are citizens are legally and practically equivalent to those of men] is the closest expression of Syrian culture.” (233081)


Round 2 Statements (Aug 2016 - Oct 2016)

Note: These statements were given by participants as rationale for their decision to gauge Syrian capacity at their stated level. 

The Range 

Lowest Score: 1

Highest Score: 7

1. Killing of women, or female children by the state, strangers, or family.

"Only the government kills women." (225662)
"Half of the population is women and children who are being killed and no one cares. ISIL rapes and kills them. Women are raped by ISIL and al-Nusra to shame their families. They are sold by their families to men from other countries to get rid of them." (228631)
"The killing of the population, disproportionately women and children, or maybe because of ISIL." (222272)

2. Abandonment of women by the government and their families (i.e., the treatment of widows).

No Statement

3. Violence against or rape of women by the state, by their families or husbands, or by other citizens.

"It applies across the spectrum. The government almost institutionalized rape against opposition held towns. Violence against women is practiced against almost everybody. A woman subjected to domestic violence has no place to go. Violence against women is becoming a serious problem across the spectrum." (223911)

4. Consistent, legally enforced, rigid social rules and expectations of women’s behavior, in the home, or in society.

No Statements

5. Women have a right to education, property rights, and inheritance, but these rights are not necessarily available in practice, in which there is strong, informal discrimination against women (i.e., in hiring practices or salary).

No Statements

6. The rights of women who are citizens are legally and practically equivalent to those of men—but the rights of guest worker, immigrant or foreign women are not.

No Statements 

7. The rights of women who are citizens, and some who are guest workers, immigrants, or foreign, are legally and practically equivalent to those of men.

"We have no problem with treating women well in Syria. They have all the rights, practically. Even the Baath Party didn't discriminate against women. For instance Assad hired the sister of the head of the Muslim Brotherhood, Najah Attar, as a Minister even though her brother is a wanted criminal." (221211)


Round 1 Statements (Jan 2016 - May 2016)

Note: These statements were given by participants as rationale for their decision to gauge Syrian capacity at the level they did for this dimension. 

The Range

Lowest Score: 1

Highest Score: 8

1.     Killing of women, or female children, by the state, strangers, or family.

No Statements

2.     Abandonment of women by the government and their families (i.e., the treatment of widows).

No Statements

3. Violence against or rape of women by the state, by their families or husbands, or by other citizens.

No Statements

4. Consistent, legally enforced, rigid social rules and expectations of women’s behavior, in the home, or in society.

No Statements

5. Women have a right to education, property rights, and inheritance, but these rights are not necessarily available in practice, in which there is strong, informal discrimination against women (i.e., in hiring practices or salary).

No Statements

6.     The rights of women who are citizens are legally and practically equivalent to those of men—but the rights of guest worker, immigrant or foreign women are not.

No Statements

7.     The rights of women who are citizens, and some who are guest workers, immigrants, or foreign, are legally and practically equivalent to those of men.

No Statements

8.     The rights of all resident women are legally and practically equivalent to those of men.

No Statements