When we talk about the impact of the Syrian war on women, it cannot be limited to about 24,000 martyrs, or 7,500 detainees, according to the Syrian Human Rights Network, or 5 million refugees, among them 80 % are children and women. But perhaps the real impact of this war is linked to the relationship of women with more than 200 thousand martyrs, 25,000 child martyrs and 106,000 detainees. Beyond these figures there are personal stories and daily details that some may see as very ordinary in addition to new challenges imposed by changes in reality.
“I wish I had completed my studies, at least I could have found a job with my diploma. Now I am looking so hard to find a job that will improve our income and enable us to support our five children,” says Om Obaida, a woman in her thirties who is a resident of Damascus countryside, while weaving the piece in her hands.
One Breadwinner.. Is Not Enough:
Despite the fact that she considers herself among the “lucky Syrians,” since she did not lose any member of her close family either arrested or martyred, the displacement changed the life of Om Obaida considerably. She clarifies: “In Ghouta, we were living in our house, and my husband used to pay all our expenses. It is true that our everyday life was not that comfortable and its level was below the average, but it was satisfying. In general, woman’s work to help in increasing the income of the family was not common in Ghouta, and man used to consider the monetary help provided by his wife as degrading and humiliating his manhood.”
After the displacement to one of the villages in the countryside of Damascus and the increase in the number of children from three to five, the family’s expenses became cumbersome and heavy, which the new work of “Abu Obaida” could not bear, says his wife. She adds: “Apart from the large size of the family and the growing expenses of the children, there are new expenses such as home rent, water and electricity costs, in addition to the high costs of all life needs, which makes it impossible for a job (a worker) to cover them. So, I thought of looking for a job and I was encouraged by the fact that there are many examples of women in the vicinity who help in the expenses, as in the end the circumstances are difficult for all of us.”
“Om Obaida” rented a sewing machine and started working for a bride equipment workshop. She says: “I benefited from my studies in a secondary technical school. I know the basics of sewing, and I do the sewing of bedspreads, pillow covers and prayer clothes. The pay I get for the piece is very simple, but I am trying to help my husband, and my work may improve in the future.”
A Crucial Issue
Despite her departure from Syria two years ago, the experience of Mrs. Maysam, a Syrian engineer resident in Turkey, confirms what “Om Obaida” said. “The family needs at least two income earners to live with dignity,” the young woman said and added: “When we left Syria, we initially relied on my husband’s work as a freelance programmer for an Arab company. Although his income was enough for us, it provided a minimum of living with limited necessities. We were left without any amount saved for emergency cases, or a favor to visit our relatives in neighboring cities, or the ability to pay two months rent in advance, and the visit of one of our relatives or friends for several days was economically very exhausting . This was the case until I started working in freelance translation.”
Maysam says that her job is slowly improving their economic condition. She adds that “this is not limited to our situation as Syrians, as most of the Turkish families I know have two to three people who work and one income is no longer enough. In the past, my father’s job alone was able to support 11 individuals and to pay for their expenses in universities and schools. Today, however, giving birth to one child is a decisive issue and needs a lot of calculations.”
When we asked Ms. Rahaf, a human medicine student, about the challenges she faced as a woman living in Germany, she did not hesitate to answer “hijab.” She said: “I traveled to Germany almost three years ago to complete my university studies. Although I was open-minded in my clothing and my speech with everyone and my German was excellent, my ‘hijab’ was always the problematic point between me and them. Many German colleagues avoided talking with me or consolidating their relations because of the “hijab” which prevents me from integrating into the new society.”
After graduating from university, things went beyond the question of establishing relationships and became linked to the opportunities she received. She said: “Many doctors refrain from providing me with training because of my hijab and this is the same case with veiled Arab friends too. While for young men things are much easier, girls have often two options: either to keep their hijab, or to stick to their future and scientific as well as professional career.”
Rahaf points to the existence of cases of taking hijab off among her friends and acquaintances in Europe. “Some were compelled to do so in order to get a job or an opportunity, and others have taken it off with conviction and will,” according to Rahaf. She, in her turn, does not conceal her bewilderment and the hundreds of questions in her head about this subject. She adds: “I have discussed the subject of the hijab tens of times with my family, but so far I have not reached a decision. I do not want to return to Syria or travel to an Arab country. My travel to other Islamic countries means that I have to learn a new language, apart from the unknown future of doctors in these places.”
In addition to what has been said, women in Syria face a different kind of challenge that is caused by the migration of young men from the cities and men’s fear of moving around the Syrian Regime’s territory. This has obliged women to work without having any prior experience. Mrs. Huda, a 40-year-old woman from Homs, is one of them. She explained: “I suddenly found myself responsible for my family in Syria, and everyone who needs government dealings or any action communicates with me about that. My movement as a woman is easier and safer than my husband’s, and so I started for the first time, since I was born, to go to courts and government departments.”
Ms. Huda points out that she meets many women like her case in government offices, and all of them do not have work experience. She explains this saying: “In the past, it was men who were responsible for these things, whether to issue an identity card, a passport, or a family record. So, as a woman I do not have the minimum experience in this and I find myself confused in the way I deal with the employees and their tricks. I am also fearful so I calculate a thousand times when I want (to pay the ex gratia) to one of them. I often become puzzled when I have to decide on the appropriate way to deal with these matters in order to serve my interests.”
The Story of the Passport
As an example, Mrs. Huda shared the number of departments she visited to obtain a passport for her newly born nephew in Saudi Arabia. She says: “It required an original copy of his birth certificate in the hospital, copies of my brother’s passport, and then I issued a family bond for me and my brother to prove our kinship and I registered the new child. Afterwards, I issued a family bond to my brother’s family after having the child, applied for a passport in the immigration and passports office, then I went to the bank to pay and took notice of payment from the bank to the finance department, there the notice was certified. Then, the certifying notice was provided with all the papers required to issue the passport to the immigration department. All of this is done to get a passport, not a postponement of military service!”