Syria: women are victims twice over, of combat and ostracism

Rape is being used as a weapon of war by both sides

12 September, 12:57

    (ANSAMed) - PARIS, SEPTEMBER 12 - Syrian women are facing the double jeopardy of civil war and of being stripped of their freedom by extremist Islamist militias, women's representatives told a French-sponsored conference Thursday.

    The conference on Syrian women is being held on the sidelines of the ongoing Union for the Mediterranean (UfM)gender issues summit. ''The female part of the social fabric is suffering, ill-treated. Due to cases of extremism that were a complete unknown in Syria until now, women have lost hope and have been ostracized from public life'', said National Syrian Coalition representative Yasmin Merie.

    Syria before the war that began in 2011 was a country of moderate Islamists with ''a very high percentage of educated women compared to other Arab countries'', Merie pointed out. Now in militia-held regions, women are being subjected to severe restrictions on their personal freedom, with many forced to stay home from work in fear of reprisals.

    ''Jihadist groups are Syria's new disease'', said Samar Yazbek, director of the Soriyat women's association. ''They forbid women to leave home without a veil, they forbid them to work outside the home. They abduct young women, forcing them to marry foreign combatants. This is how they are attacking our society. They infiltrate it in order to change it''.

    Weakened by the war and deprived of a livelihood for themselves and their children, many women succumb to these abuses, placing their family's survival ahead of their personal rights.

    ''Local associations are working on small projects to help women retain economic autonomy, so they won't need the help of the jihadists and can preserve their role in society and their presence in public,'' she explained. Syrian women also face the daily threat of rape, which is being used by both sides as a weapon of war, the representatives said. The armed forces of Syrian President Bashar el-Assad use rape to repress women and girls who sympathize with the rebels, and to torture their detained male relatives.

    ''They rape captured rebels' wives and sisters before their eyes, as a form of torture'', said one humanitarian worker who spoke on condition of anonymity. Jihadists rape in order to forcibly link women to their cause, with abducted teenagers being offered them as ''temporary brides''. ''These young women end up suffering severe medical and psychological trauma, because of the violence and because of the taboo on losing one's virginity, which is a source of great shame to the both victim and her family,'' the source went on.

    ''These women are hard to reach, because so many of them can't even bring themselves to speak about what is happening to them.

    Which in turn endangers their health, because rape can cause pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, severe genital trauma.

    It's hard to cure those who fear being cured.'' (ANSAMed).

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