Women In Syria Essay, Research Paper
DAMASCUS, 31 May1999 (Reuters)-Fourteen year old Aisha picked dirt from her fingernails and calmly recounted how her father used to rape her six years ago whenever they were alone at home.” I told my mother who challenged my father. But he just shouted at her and said that he owned me and had the right to do whatever he wanted to me”. Women in Syria are usually viewed as weaker than men in mind, body, and spirit. They are often not only discriminated, but also victims of violence and rape. Like in most Muslim countries women are veiled, isolated and many young girls are denied of education by their parents.
Although women had reached important achievements at many levels, the Syrian society does not yet completely support equal right laws. In addition, the fact of Syria being a Muslim country is not encouraging as most of public offices along with courts are filled with men. During the rule of president Assad, however, the women’s situation has improved, leading to new opportunities for Syrian women who are entering not only to government but also economic offices. This paper will try to show the relationship between the religious, suppressive society and the women’s achievements in the educational, political and economic areas.
Since Islam is the official state religion there are several dress codes for women; the body is completely covered with black whereas the hair must be covered with a hijab. In addition, the laws of marriage, divorce and child custody are also of the Qur’an, hence, in complete favor of the men. Hanan Nijmeh, a lawyer and women activist, claims that Syrian laws “do not protect the women’s rights”. Therefore, violence against them is a serious problem as well as rape. Some women feel that it is better to be with any man than to be all alone. Moreover, the state recognizes polygyny, claiming that god allowed it in the Qur’an. In theory women in Islam have the right to a divorce, whenever she likes, but only if it was included in the marriage contract. However, no man would agree to marry “such a woman”. There is no doubt that the absence of women from the legislative and executive branches is a barrier in obtaining full rights.
Women unions similar to GUW (General Union of Women) promote Legislative changes. The GUW is a pro–government union operating all over the country and its goal is “to achieve equal opportunity for all women”. It had opened nurseries and kindergartens in order to help workingwomen and particularly mothers; it offers training for unemployed women, but most important it fights illiteracy, which is very common among rural women . Since 1970, the government adopted new plans concerning education. Firstly, schools are free and subsidized; moreover, the government has issued a school construction program affecting every village, including Bedouin tribes. As a result of this policy the number of girls enrolled in schools had doubled and increased in higher education . Although becoming better educated has permitted women to be financially independent, social conditions did not change. Women have being assuming new positions however their role in the household did not change. Yet “social attitudes are changing, but at a much slower pace than realities affecting women” .
However, It is in education that Syrian women have made the greatest progress, as their involvement in politics has been much slower. Women have little if any representation in the government, yet in 1976, Dr. Najah al-Attar was appointed Minister of Culture. Since then there were another woman minister, one woman ambassador, three women in the diplomatic service, one woman representative in the trade union, public organizations and local party branches. Today, according to GUW member Raghida al-Ahmad, “there are 26 women in the 250-member parliament and two ministers in the 36-member cabinet. There are 132 women judges and 16 percent of lawyers”. In Syria as in many countries, women can change their status only when they hold political power for which their number must be high. This is a problem, especially in Syria where the laws of the Qur’an do not permit such involvement.
The number of women in the Syrian workforce remains quite low; official figures state that women make up a third of the labor force in agriculture, but they have no say in either land or management. As to their role in business, only 4 percent of the total run their own businesses. Half of the population lives in rural areas therefore women are not counted as a part of the formal sector. In addition of bearing children and managing a home, women play an important role in working the fields; however, they do not receive benefits such as income and pension. “They form an unpaid labor force that contributes profoundly to the national economy”. In the urban sector the situation is different. Although in the past thirty years Syrian women have entered the workforce , they are still out numbered by men due to the religious and traditional boundaries (They must not work among men for example). Moreover, the new income a woman brings at home does not reduce the burden of her domestic requirements. Due to the United Nations’ efforts and its agencies there is a growing awareness of the importance of women’s work, in both rural and urban areas. Even conservative Muslim societies cannot ignore the women’s contribution. Both the government and nongovernmental organizations have helped in changing the status of women. By far the most important women’s organization in Syria, the GUW, has representatives in almost every village and has an enormous impact. Other NGO’s, such as the Women Educational Society, formed in 1946, which consist of upper middle class women volunteering in order to help poorer and younger women.
Due to these groups’ efforts along with legal and industrial changes, women have achieved new positions in almost every field. Educational, political and economic opportunities had increased without any actual change in women’s status within a Muslim country. According to the Syrian writer Bouthania Shaaban:
A woman now pursuing her university or even her post graduate studies is expected to behave toward her brothers and father in the same manner as an illiterate woman lacking any schooling…thus she is hardly different from her mother and her grandmother. Her problematic status is a consequence of the failure through lack of courage, of women themselves to assert their new identity. In the patriarchal Syrian society, they have not made it self-evident that thy reject being treated in an outdated way.
These charged relations between substantial achievements on one hand and the repressive Muslim society on the other creates discouragement among the Syrian women. All women not only in Syria but also in the entire Muslim world should mobilize themselves in order to achieve more political representation, better conditions and most important better social status.
“ArabNet—AUE, Government, Women’s Federation.” http://www.arab.net/aue/gov/eu_womenfederation.html.
Greg Shai, Gardner. “Syrian, Israeli businesswomen meet.” The Jerusalem Post Newspaper, March 31, 2000.
“Improving the relevance and effectiveness of agricultural extensions activities for women.” http://www.fao.org/DOCREP/V4805e/v4805e06.htm.
Mohammed, Arkoun. “Women in Islam,” Al Safir, October 21, 1994.
“Mission Report: development of activities for women communities in Jordan and Syria.” http://fao.org/DOCREP/x0206e/x0206e01.htm.
Shaaban, Bouthania. “Both Right and Left Handed: Arab women talk about their lives.” Indiana University press: 1991.
Sleiman, Sultan.” Violence against women in Syria,” http://Kamilat.org/DV/syria.htm.
“Syria. THE INDIVIDUAL, THE FAMILY, AND THE SEXES.” http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?cstudy:6:./temp/~frd_hLwS::
“Syria-Human Rights development.” HRRW World Report, 1999 http://www.hrw.org/hrw/worldreport99/mideast.html.
“Syria, recent developments.” Syria Country Analysis Brief, http://www.iea.doe.gov/emeu/cabs/syria.html.