Violence against women rises in eastern Syria

International Women's Day celebration in Raqqa - March 8, 2024 (Women's Coordination for the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria/Facebook)

International Women's Day celebration in Raqqa - March 8, 2024 (Women's Coordination for the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria/Facebook)


Enab Baladi – Reham al-Sawadi

Lying on the ground, surrounded by three men and a child, each holding a stick, they barrage her with insults and beatings amidst the silence of the onlookers. The 15-year-old girl screams, “I swear, I am innocent.”

Despite the girl’s pleading cries to stop, a louder voice commands, “Beat her hard, beat her,” encouraging the men and the child to continue.

A video recording, which spread on social media in February, fueled speculation about the girl, her abusers, and their motives, and how they were held accountable.

A journalist from rural Raqqa, who withheld his name for security reasons, told Enab Baladi that the girl and her 22-year-old sister had an old dispute with their brothers regarding their inheritance rights.

The dispute continued until the wife of one of the brothers later made accusations related to their honor, which led one of the sisters (the one in the recording) to flee after an assault on her older sister in the house, but her brother managed to catch up with her, according to the journalist.

One of the victim’s brothers filed a complaint against the abusers, prompting the Internal Security Forces (Asayish) to arrest two of the attackers and one of their sons, while the fourth fled to a neighboring village.

Subsequently, some villagers transported the assaulted girl to Raqqa National Hospital, and dignitaries from the region’s tribes intervened after it was proven that “the two girls were virgins,” declaring their protection for the victims and pledging to hold a tribal court to resolve the dispute.

On the other hand, Asayish, on February 27, said they had arrested two individuals and were looking for the third after confirming their identities, and the investigation began to uncover the circumstances of the assault, taking all necessary legal measures to hold those involved accountable.

Accusations were directed at the Women’s Coordination for not intervening to care for the two girls, while the coordination issued a statement condemning “the brutal assault” and promising a “decisive response” by promoting awareness of the importance and status of women and enforcing laws to limit transgressions and abuses, and to hold those responsible for women’s murder and violence accountable.

Accusations against AANES

Asayish attacked a gathering of activists on March 15, commemorating the 13th anniversary of the Syrian revolution, in the city of Raqqa, where the journalist Marwa Nassif, a correspondent for SY Plus news website, who was covering the event, was assaulted.

Two media figures who participated in the same protest (Enab Baladi withheld their names for security reasons) said that Asayish elements beat Marwa, in addition to confiscating her equipment.

The Syrian Justice and Accountability Center (SJAC) released a press statement one day before the assault on the reporter, accusing the deputy head of the Conservatives Party in the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), Akram Hajjo al-Mahshush, of being involved in the murder of a girl accused of adultery.

According to the SJAC, the victim’s uncles, involved in the crime, were arrested by the Autonomous Administration, while al-Mahshush faced no repercussions for his endorsement of the girl’s killing, in addition to his call for the early release of the two men.

The SJAC considered al-Mahshush’s involvement in the crime “reprehensible” given his position and because he was a member of the subcommittee tasked with drafting the Social Contract for the Autonomous Administration, which criminalizes all “forms of violence against women, exploitation, and discrimination against them.”

Complicity of the SDF

The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) issued its annual report on International Women’s Day, March 8, documenting the killing of approximately 16,442 women since March 2011 until now.

The report covered all violations against women from March 2011 until March 2024, in various areas of control, including violations by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

According to the report, 177 women were killed by the SDF, while 529 women remain detained or forcibly disappeared, two were killed under torture, and 16 women were subjected to sexual violence by the SDF.

AANES’ laws

Ibrahim al-Mashi, a lawyer in the city of Manbij under the control of the Autonomous Administration, told Enab Baladi that AANES’ laws use the term “beating and injury” instead of violence, and the punishment is considered according to the act’s severity and effect.

If the violence is verbal, such as cursing and insulting, or psychological, such as threatening, or if the act of harm results in a temporary disability, the perpetrator is imprisoned from ten days up to three years. However, if it results in a permanent disability, the prison sentence is not less than three years.

Al-Mashi believes that the Autonomous Administration’s laws lack progressive thought for rehabilitating prisoners, as the goal of imprisonment is to reform the individual and reintegrate them into society after acknowledging their mistake and renouncing it, which the region’s prisons lack.

The Autonomous Administration’s Legislative Council ratified the Women’s Law issued by the Women’s Authority in 2014 and later amended by the Women’s Council in North and East Syria in June 2021, renaming it the Family Law, and endorsing 26 basic principles for general provisions specific to women.

While the Women’s Law contained provisions that criminalize practices and violations against women, and adjudicate equality and justice between the genders, the Family Law regulated family relations and clarified rights and duties within it, according to North Press Agency.

Adalet Omar, the head of the Women’s Authority in the Autonomous Administration in North and East Syria, said that “the Family Law limits family disintegration and all forms of discrimination existing in society, and the law serves not only women’s interests but also individuals and children.”

However, the law’s application was limited to the areas of Jazira, Kobani (Ain al-Arab), and Afrin, while it was not ratified in Raqqa, al-Tabqa, Deir Ezzor, and Manbij, as per Omar.

Efforts of organizations

The organization “SARA” for combating violence against women works on counting cases of violence against women in areas controlled by the Autonomous Administration, including physical, psychological, and verbal abuse, highlighting cases of violence and crimes that occur under the guise of “honor crimes.”

According to the organization’s latest statistics accessed by Enab Baladi, the cases of women’s murder in areas controlled by the Autonomous Administration from January 1, 2023, to December 1 of the same year reached 21 women. At the same time, seven cases of rape, 180 cases of beating and injury, 15 underage marriages, and one harassment case were documented from a total of 465 women who experienced various forms of violence.

SARA organization, headquartered in Qamishli, explained to Enab Baladi that the organization takes several steps to combat violence against women, such as providing psychological and legal support to victims and enhancing public awareness of violence against women, and working on tightening and effectively enforcing laws.

The organization believes that improving the lives of abused women and providing a safe environment for them could make a change on the ground.

Violence against women

UN Women stated that violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread human rights violations globally, occurring daily with serious physical and psychological long-term and short-term impacts on women and girls.

According to the United Nations, violence includes domestic and battering, psychological abuse, marital and non-marital rape, femicide, verbal, physical, and psychological harassment, forced marriage, genital mutilation, human trafficking, and underage marriages.

According to the Global Women’s Index for Peace and Security, Syria ranked 171 out of 177, based on the protection, justice, and insurance status enjoyed by women in Syria.


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