Women in Syria

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Women in Syria
نسرين طافش.jpg MunaWassefCropped.jpg
Asma al-Assad.jpg
Gender Inequality Index[3]
Value 0.556 (2013)
Rank 125th out of 152
Maternal mortality (per 100,000) 70 (2010)
Women in parliament 13% (2015)[1]
Females over 25 with secondary education 29.0% (2012)
Women in labour force 15% (2014)[2]
Global Gender Gap Index[4]
Value 0.5661 (2013)
Rank 133rd out of 144

Women in Syria constitute 49.4% of Syria's population,[5] and are active participants not only in everyday life, but also in the socio-political fields. Notable examples are president Assad's chief political and media adviser, Bouthaina Shaaban, who also held office as Minister of Expatriates from 2002 and 2008,[6] and Hadiya Khalaf Abbas, the officially elected speaker of the People's Council of Syria and the first woman to have held that position.[7]

Whatsoever, the Syrian Civil War put a new obstacle on Syrian women, forcing them to face increasing levels of violence, including war rape, and traditional abusive practices such as honor killings which occur in rural areas and areas held by extremist terrorists.


In the 20th century a movement for women's rights developed in Syria, made up largely of upper-class, educated women.[8] In 1919, Naziq al-Abid founded Noor al-Fayha (Light of Damascus), the city's first women's organization, alongside an affiliated publication of the same name. She was made an honorary general of the Syrian Army after fighting in the Battle of Maysaloun, and in 1922 she founded the Syrian Red Crescent.[9] In 1928 Lebanese-Syrian feminist Nazira Zain al-Din, one of the first people to critically reinterpret the Quran from a feminist perspective, published a book condemning the practice of veiling or hijab, arguing that Islam requires women to be treated equally with men.[10]

Peasant in 1961

In 1963 the Ba'th Party took power in Syria, and pledged full equality between women and men as well as full workforce participation for women.[11]

In 1967 Syrian women formed a quasi-governmental organization called the General Union of Syrian Women (GUSW), a coalition of women's welfare societies, educational associations, and voluntary councils intended to achieve equal opportunity for women in Syria.[11]

Women in Syria have also been integral in acts of nonviolence in response to the Syrian dictator, Bashar Al-Assad. In 2011, conflict was emerging throughout Syria due to the long reign of the Assad family. Throughout the 40 year reign, outbreaks of both nonviolent and violent acts emerged. Assad reacted to these actions by increasing arrests and the killings of Syrian men and women. In response to Assad's increasing arrests and killings, Syrian women and children gathered together. The women and children rallied together and marched to the main highway where they blocked the roadway. This act of nonviolence lead to civilians and military not being able to get where they were going to. This did not make the military very happy. The military came in with tanks and were making various threats towards the protesters but that did not scare them off. Later that day over one hundred Syrian prisoners were released. This was significant because the power women and children had through their nonviolent protest. Their issue of wanting their husbands and sons released from prison was understood by Syrian officials and they knew in order to get the women and children to leave would need to fulfill their demands.[12]

Legal rights[edit]

While Syria has developed some fairly secular features during independence in the second half of the 20th century, personal status law is still based on Sharia[13] and applied by Sharia Courts.[14] Syria has a dual legal system which includes both secular and religious courts, and the latter discriminate against women.[15]

Syrian women are legally allowed to participate in everyday life, although they are not guaranteed a spot in being part of political, social, cultural and economic categories. The legal marriage for females in Syria is seventeen years old and eighteen for males. Early marriage is not out of the ordinary in their culture. Even though the legal age is seventeen, the courts can allow for girls as young as thirteen to be married. Women are technically allowed to have a say in what the agreements are between them and the groom. Although, since this contract has to be signed by the groom and the male guardian of the bride, her wishes are rarely met. On the other hand, of marriage, the divorce laws are unique in Syria. Women are in fact allowed to file for divorce except it is a long drawn out process and she must get consent from her husband. There are some circumstances in which the woman can apply for a divorce through the judicial system. In order to do this, she must prove that her husband has abused her or neglected his other duties as a husband. If a man wants to divorce a woman, all he has to do is go to court and orally demand a divorce three times, then the court will order him a divorce.[16]


The early schooling in Syria starts at six years old and ends at the age of eighteen. In Syrian universities, women and men attend the same classes. Between 1970 and the late 1990s, the female population in schools dramatically increased. This increase included the early school years, along with the upper level schools such as universities. Although the number of women has increased, there are still ninety five women to every one hundred men. Although many women start going to school, the dropout rate for women is much higher than for men.

The literacy rate for women is 74.2 percent and 91 percent for men. The rate of females over 25 with secondary education is 29.0 percent.[3]


In 1949, women in Syria were first allowed to vote and received universal suffrage in 1953.[17] In the 1950s, Thuraya Al-Hafez ran for Parliament, but was not elected. By 1971, women held four out of the 173 seats.[18]

The nation of Syria considers itself a republic. Therefore, its government consists of an executive, legislative, and judicial branch of government. The current president of Syria is a male by the name of Bashar al-Assad. There are also two vice presidents (including female vice president Najah al-Attar since 2006), a prime minister and a cabinet. As of 2012, in the national parliament men held 88% of the seats while women held 12%.[19] The Syrian Parliament was previously led by female Speaker Hadiya Khalaf Abbas.

President Assad's political and media adviser is Bouthaina Shaaban. Shaaban served as the first Minister of Expatriates for the Syrian Arab Republic, between 2003 and 2008, and she has been described as the Syrian government's face to the outside world.

Role in economy and in the military[edit]

In 1989 the Syrian government passed a law requiring factories and public institutions to provide on-site childcare.[11]

However, women's involvement in the workforce is low; according to World Bank, as of 2014, women made up 15.5% of the labor force.[20]

Women are not conscripted in the military, but may serve voluntarily. The female militias of Syria are trained to fight for the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. A video was found dating back to the 1980s with female soldiers showing their pride and protectiveness toward Assad's father.[21] "Because women are rarely involved in the armed side of the revolution, they are much less likely to get stopped, searched, or hassled at government checkpoints. This has proved crucial in distributing humanitarian aid throughout Syria."[22]

Women's health[edit]

Between 2010 and 2015, the average life expectancy at birth for women in Syria is 77.7 years, compared with 74.5 years for men.[19]

Crime against women[edit]

Honor killings[edit]

Honor killings take place in Syria in situations where women are deemed to have brought shame to the family, affecting the family's 'reputation' in the community. Some estimates suggest that more than 200 honor killings occur every year in Syria.[23]

Forced and child marriage[edit]

The conflict in Syria has led to an increase in child marriages.. The harsh living conditions, the insecurity, and the fear of rape, have led families to force their daughters into early marriages.[24] [25]

Federation of Northern Syria - Rojava[edit]

Member of the YPJ with a standard uniform

With the Syrian Civil War, the Kurdish populated area in Northern Syria has gained de facto autonomy as the Federation of Northern Syria - Rojava, with the leading political actor being the progressive Democratic Union Party (PYD). Kurdish women have several armed and non-armed organizations in Rojava, and enhancing women's rights is a major focus of the political and societal agenda. Kurdish female fighters in the Women's Protection Units (YPJ) played a key role during the Siege of Kobani and in rescuing Yazidis trapped on Mount Sinjar, and their achievements have attracted international attention as a rare example of strong female achievement in a region in which women are heavily repressed.[26][27][28][29][30]

The civil laws of Syria are valid in Rojava, as far as they do not conflict with the Constitution of Rojava. One notable example for amendment is personal status law, in Syria still Sharia-based,[13][14] where Rojava introduced civil law and proclaims absolute equality of women under the law and a ban on forced marriage as well as polygamy was introduced,[31] while underage marriage was outlawed as well.[32] For the first time in Syrian history, civil marriage is being allowed and promoted, a significant move towards a secular open society and intermarriage between people of different religious backgrounds.[33]

The legal efforts to reduce cases of underage marriage, polygamy and honor killings are underpinned by comprehensive public awareness campaigns.[34] In every town and village, a women's house is established. These are community centers run by women, providing services to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and other forms of harm. These services include counseling, family mediation, legal support, and coordinating safe houses for women and children.[35] Classes on economic independence and social empowerment programs are also held at women's houses.[36]

All administrative organs in Rojava are required to have male and female co-chairs, and forty percent of the members of any governing body in Rojava must be female.[37] An estimated 25 percent of the Asayish police force of the Rojava cantons are women, and joining the Asayish is described in international media as a huge act of personal and societal liberation from an extremely patriarchical background, for ethnic Kurdish and ethnic Arab women alike.[38]

The PYD's political agenda of "trying to break the honor-based religious and tribal rules that confine women" is controversial in conservative quarters of society.[32]

Notable women[edit]


  1. ^ http://www.ipu.org/WMN-e/classif.htm
  2. ^ http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.TLF.ACTI.FE.ZS
  3. ^ a b "Table 4: Gender Inequality Index". United Nations Development Programme. Retrieved 7 November 2014. 
  4. ^ "The Global Gender Gap Report 2013" (PDF). World Economic Forum. pp. 12–13. 
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  15. ^ https://www.unicef.org/gender/files/Syria-Gender-Eqaulity-Profile-2011.pdf
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  18. ^ Moubayed, Sami. "A History of Syrian Women". The Washington Post. 
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  20. ^ http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.TLF.TOTL.FE.ZS
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  23. ^ Sinjab, Lina (12 October 2007). "Honour crime fear of Syria women". BBC News. 
  24. ^ https://europa.eu/eyd2015/en/unfpa/stories/child-marriage-takes-toll-syrian-girls
  25. ^ http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-10-14/child-brides-number-in-sryria-triples-since-conflict/6851248?pfmredir=sm
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  32. ^ a b "Syrian Kurds tackle conscription, underage marriages and polygamy". ARA News. 15 November 2016. Retrieved 2016-11-16. 
  33. ^ "Syria Kurds challenging traditions, promote civil marriage". ARA News. 2016-02-20. Retrieved 2016-08-23. 
  34. ^ "Syrian Kurds give women equal rights, snubbing jihadists". Yahoo News. Retrieved 9 January 2016. 
  35. ^ Owen, Margaret. "Gender and justice in an emerging nation: My impressions of Rojava, Syrian Kurdistan". Retrieved 9 January 2016. 
  36. ^ "Revolution in Rojava transformed the perception of women in the society". Retrieved 9 January 2016. 
  37. ^ "The Rojava Model". Foreign Affairs. 14 October 2016. 
  38. ^ "Syrian women liberated from Isis are joining the police to protect their city". The Independent. 13 October 2016. Retrieved 2016-10-14. 
  39. ^ Syria crisis: Gulf states recognise Syria opposition

External links[edit]

Survey: Discrimination against Women in Syrian Society (I/II). Awareness of Women Rights and Freedoms, The Day After Association, August 2017

Survey: Discrimination Against Women in Syrian Society (II/II): Perception of Domestic Violence, The Day After Association, August 2017