Women deprived of inheritance rights in northeast Syria

Women in northeast Syria fear sibling estrangement if they demand their shares of the inheritance - October 21, 2019 (Reuters)

Women in northeast Syria fear sibling estrangement if they demand their shares of the inheritance - October 21, 2019 (Reuters)


Enab Baladi – Reham al-Sawadi

After the death of their father, Fatima’s three brothers divided his inheritance among themselves, leaving her and her four sisters without any share.

As is customary in the city of al-Shaddadi, south of the al-Hasakah governorate, Fatima’s sisters, aged 36 years old, relinquished their rights to the inheritance, while Fatima was the only one who demanded her right.

Fatima told Enab Baladi that if it weren’t for the “harsh circumstances” her family of six was enduring, she wouldn’t have filed a lawsuit in court to claim her share of the inheritance, which is about 15 dunams (approximately 3.7 acres).

Fatima, whose full name was withheld by Enab Baladi for social reasons, works as a teacher for the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), as does her husband, and they both earn a salary of two million Syrian pounds (about $142).

Community and family barriers

Shams, from Hawayej Bu Masaa in the western countryside of Deir Ezzor, fears the community’s perception that might accuse her husband of being greedy over her father’s land, if she were to demand her share of the inheritance, despite it being a legal right “sanctioned by law and sharia” for every girl.

Like Fatima, Shams wouldn’t have inquired about her inheritance right if she wasn’t in need of money to help her 17-year-old son leave the country for Europe in search of a better future and hoping to improve her family’s living condition, consisting of six members.

Shams, 48, told Enab Baladi that she asked her brothers to collect her share of the inheritance to sell it, as there is no one lending money in the area “these days,” but her request was denied.

The only way for Shams to get money, as is customary in the region, is by buying a car from a usurer at a certain price without directly paying it, and the price doubles after a period determined by the usurer, an amount Shams cannot afford to pay.

Besides societal views, women fear their brothers may estrange them if they demand their shares of the inheritance, as happened with Fatima whose brothers cut ties with her after she filed the lawsuit.

An employee of the Zenobia Women’s Gathering, affiliated with the Autonomous Administration, who preferred to remain unnamed as she is not authorized to speak to the media, told Enab Baladi that the prevailing social heritage in eastern societies allows a brother or father to deny a woman her inheritance rights.

She pointed out that the Gathering, alongside other organizations working in the region, works on raising women’s awareness of their inheritance rights and assists them in claiming their rights through the law by offering educational courses.

The Zenobia Women’s Gathering is a “political, social, and ecological women’s organization,” founded on June 6, 2021, to include women from various cultures in Syria.

According to Shahrzad al-Jassim, spokesperson for the Women’s Body in Deir Ezzor, the Gathering strives to improve women’s realities at all levels, combat all forms of physical and cultural genocide, establish community values, and achieve justice, equality, and full participation in public life.

Legal experiences

Fatima has been revisiting the court since last year, waiting to get her “stolen rights” as she described, but the court continues to postpone due to her brothers’ absence from the sessions.

Samah, from al-Hajnah village in the northern countryside of Deir Ezzor, faces the same issue, as she filed a lawsuit in court demanding her inheritance right, despite attempts by her relatives to prevent her from filing the complaint, fearing societal judgment.

Samah (45 years old) attended several court sessions, but her brothers absented themselves, ultimately forcing her to give up without receiving anything from her share of the inheritance.

Meanwhile, Ahlam, from the village of al-Dahla east of Deir Ezzor, managed to obtain her share of the inheritance after filing a complaint against her six brothers to the Women and Justice Committee affiliated with the Autonomous Administration.

Ahlam, 45, told Enab Baladi that the judge ruled in her favor after several sessions, granting her 45 dunams (approximately 11 acres) of her father’s inheritance, who died more than ten years ago.

What drove Ahlam to demand her right after such a long time since her father’s death, aside from societal views, was her husband’s car accident in 2016, which prevented him from working.

The accident led to a deterioration in their living conditions and difficulty in supporting her four children, with no assistance from her brothers.

Walid al-Mutairan, a lawyer in the city of Raqqa, under the control of the Autonomous Administration, told Enab Baladi that men in the region, especially in the rural eastern areas, do not give women any share of the inheritance, whether it is agricultural land, residential property, or movable properties.

He added that the Autonomous Administration generally sets its own laws and applies them in its controlled areas, yet the laws related to inheritance are the same as those applied in the personal status laws of the Syrian regime.

Regarding the procedures, al-Mutairan said the lawsuit file is initially sent to the Reconciliation Committee, in an attempt to resolve the matter without legal proceedings, and the file is referred to the court if no agreement is reached.

The court appoints an expert to divide the shares among the heirs, and ultimately issues a decision giving each heir their share of the inheritance, according to the lawyer.

According to al-Mutairan, court procedures from the time of filing the complaint to the issuance of the judgment, if there are no obstacles, take an average of six months.

Judge Roujin Osman, from the Justice Diwan of the Autonomous Administration in the city of Qamishli, told the North Press agency that the number of inheritance lawsuits involving women, which were transferred from the Women’s Houses, Reconciliation Committees, and Communes to the Courts of Justice, reached 89 lawsuits across different regions of northeast Syria in 2023, including 31 lawsuits in Qamishli.

Although there are several articles and clauses related to women’s rights in the social contract ratified by the General Council of the Autonomous Administration in January 2023, the details regarding inheritance were not specified, focusing instead on broad rights, duties, and judgements.

A different perspective

Jassim, an employee at the Civil Council of the Autonomous Administration in al-Sour town, originating from Deir Ezzor city, believes that a segment of men, especially in the tribal society, still view women as “commodities” or merely an “extra number,” and that their participation in inheritance is shameful.

Jassim, who refrained from revealing his full name as he is not authorized to speak to the media, criticized men for only remembering from the religion that “men are the protectors and maintainers of women ‏,” ignoring the verse “To the male, a portion equal to that of two females.”

The director of the local organization “Ataa,” Mane’ al-Sifer, from al-Baghouz town, told Enab Baladi that ignorance in religion and the dominance of customs and traditions, which stigmatize the transfer of money to a man outside the family (if the woman is married), prevent women from obtaining their rightful inheritance.

Al-Sifer also held religious leaders responsible for changing the practice of depriving women of their inheritance rights, through sermons and religious lessons, in addition to the law that has not yet imposed “strict” clauses to protect women’s rights.

Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Deir Ezzor, Obadah al-Sheikh, contributed to this report.


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