Enab Baladi

Syrian Martyrs’ Widows are Socially Imprisoned Women

A war within a war: Syrian young women, the widows of the martyrs, are forced to marry the brothers of their deceased husbands to protect themselves and their children from society.

For the sake of her innocent little daughter, Ghadeer buried her heart in her husband’s Muhammad Tomb. She traveled from the past that joined them in the most beautiful memories, to the world of another man, one she has always regarded as a younger brother. In the second world, she had to “marry her dead husband’s brother.”

Ghadeer is a young woman in her twenties, from Ariha’s southern countryside in Idlib governorate, worries accumulated in her life after the death of her husband and her agony increased with pregnancy, which was in its first month.

“My husband studied at Homs’ University; it was his final year. He died in a car explosion,” says Gadeer and explains that she has spent the “Iddah,” a waiting period that follows the death of a husband through which she cannot marry another man, in her house. I spent my Iddah in my house for the whole duration of pregnancy. I prayed to God to have a boy, that would have his father’s name and who can defend me in the future,” she said.

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Ghadeer gave birth and because she was young she had to leave her husband’s house to return to her parents, with layers of anguish and a little baby girl, she called Wafaa (Loyalty).

The Central Prison of Traditions and Customs

A large set of traditions and customs rule the Syrian society and impose their power on the oppressed. They make a prison where many people spend a life sentence. One of these traditions is a widow’s marriage to the brother of her deceased husband.

The need to protect a family from “being lost”  and the need to keep a child safe from “homelessness” are two justifications, among many others, for a marriage that patterns the life of a woman without the slightest care for her desires or feelings. Sometimes in such marriages, even the opinion of the deceased husband’s brother is not taken into consideration, as he has no right to plan his own life, a life which his family or surrounding usually manicure according to social preferences.

This type of marriage, the one which unites a woman to the brother of her dead husband, prevailed in Syria and kept expanding until it reached refugee-hosting countries for the war which has been going on for seven years increased the percentage  of death among men, reaching 162 thousand, documented by names according to the “Syrian Network for Human Rights.” However, the absence of official statistics, which show the specific numbers of breadwinners among male victims, allocates the greatest role to the testimonies of the people who lived or witnessed such experiences to be the proof for their being true.

The victims include detainees, whose souls have been taken within detention centers, and others whose lives have been stolen by bombs and explosions, in the shadow of this life husbands die and leave it for their society to decide the destiny of their families.

The parents of the deceased husband, who would not allow strangers to come close to their grandchildren, give the woman two choices, either to marry one of her dead husbands’ brothers or abandon the umbrella of her former husband’s family to start a new life without her children.

As for the widow’s family, they would mostly think of the financial and social burdens that will exhaust their daughter after the death of her husband for war had placed many families under the weight of financial lack. Therefore, their daughter’s return, especially if she had children, might increase their poverty. Concerning the marriage hypothesis, parents usually prefer such a choice for it is socially sufficient, so they would not mind, rather they would welcome the idea of their widow daughter remarrying one of her husband’s brothers.

These traditions have been solidified by the decisions made by certain parties that imposed themselves on parts of Syria, such as the statement issued, last week, by the “Salvation” Government in Idlib which prohibits the martyrs’ widows from living alone and demanded that they leave with a male family member, otherwise they will be legally and religiously held accountable.

A Reluctant “Yes”

Ghadeer did not spend a long time in her parents’ home for problems started to emerge, as she said, between her family and the family of her deceased husband, who refused that their granddaughter was growing up away from them. “They came and asked me to marry their son, who is three years younger than me,” she said.

Confusion started to control her mind, especially that her father was keen on that marriage, and since that, she had no escape from that marriage, Ghadeer found no way out but to say that “Even though my heart has space for one person only; I am forced to accept this life, which is the best solution for my daughter. This way, she will be growing in my arms, and she can be the only memory from my husband to keep.”

Troubles did not leave Ghadeer’s life; but rather, they grow day after day even when she accepted a marriage that was imposed on her and her partner. Ghadeer’s life was not more bitter than that of her new husband, whose mind was preoccupied with the pretext of the marriage, keeping his brother’s family together, and the destiny of his niece, the daughter of the martyr, which was directly correlated to his answer. The uncle headed towards his new life with a “reluctant yes.”

Wafaa uncle’s acceptance of this marriage resembles the reactions of many young people who were forced into these marriages by their excessive feelings for the children whose parents died and became without breadwinners or traditions and customs that keep reminding them of their obligations, which they could not escape, and sometimes they married to exploit inheritance, which might go to people who do not deserve it according to them. 

Many of these young men (Brothers of the deceased husbands) had their own families and children or have been single designing the features they wish to find in the wives of the future, features that the wife of the brother might not have. However, the death of their brothers made critical changes to their plans or totally ruined their already existing marriages. 

The Behavioral and Psychological Implications of these Marriages

Though religion and the law do not oppose the marriage of a woman to her deceased husband’s brother, in case she spent the whole period allocated for, Amani Sandeh, a sociologist, has a different opinion.  When she used to work as a Director of Child Protection and Case Management at the International Medical Corps, she observed different cases inside Syria and noticed that many of these marriages are enforced. In most of the cases, the family of the dead husband refused the idea that their grandchildren were being raised outside their circle.

According to Amani, women are usually the primary victims in this equation when problems begin telling her that she would never develop feelings or passion for her new husband. As a result of this, she starts to have an emotional separation which triggers her to find a substitute that might lead to corruption. If a woman’s deterioration story spreads in her social surrounding, she will definitely start having family problems. If the woman’s emotional bereavement stays enclosed within her body, she will develop a series of internal conflicts, where her feelings of guilt and emotional dryness clash.  

The same thing applies to husbands who have been forced to these marriages for they do not have any emotions towards their brothers’ former wives, which also drives them to deviate or do what Ghadeer’s husband has done.  He married the woman of his dreams as a second wife, an act through which he reopened the unlimited page of pain and suffering.

The Little Victim

Passion and emotions are the base on which a family is built. According to the sociologist, children during such time would be totally aware of the lack of emotions among the family members for the mother does not have any feelings for the new husband, so does the uncle, and what makes the whole relationship a lot worse is that children do know that the man of the house is not their real father.

Children, who have gone through this situation, keep saying that “dad is a martyr and mother married my uncle. I do not love my uncle.” In this case, psychological disorders and problems are not far from affecting the lives of these children, and their outcome will appear in the future due to the lack of love and compassion.

Among these troubles, there is also the psychological stigma. Many ideas go on in the minds of children. In such situations, they shrink into themselves and shy away from their social surrounding. They, in addition to this, tend to deny the reality that the real father is dead and the existing one is not real. All these complications, would in one way or another, trigger violence in these children.  

Pain from and to Society

The family is the basis of society and children are the builders of the family in the future. Children living in such conditions will definitely imitate the methods they are witnessing. Accordingly, they would not be able to form an integrated or healthy family.   

According to the expert Amani, the current image of the family is not a healthy one which will definitely lead to social failure, corruption and perversions reaching the point where there would not be correct social relationships. The least of these incorrect relations is the dispute between the family of the wife and the family of the husband which is as old as the mandatory relation itself.

Pressures and worries affected Ghadeer’s husband who started to have constant headaches that influenced his body and health which resulted in losing his work. Ghadeer, accordingly, was forced to work in the field of knitting. “I became a servant, a breadwinner, and the one responsible for making a living for my husband, daughter and his second family.”

Ghadeer cries while knitting a dress.With impatience, she waits for the money that she would get for two hungry families are looking forward to her weak body to feed them.