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Service Marriages and the Hidden Struggles of Syrian Women

Service Marriages and the Hidden Struggles of Syrian Women

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Life Women’s Rights Basic Rights

Monday 8 April 202407:14 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

زواج "الخدمات" في سوريا... لماذا يقبله الدين والمجتمع ويرفضان "زواج المتعة"؟


In the southern regions of Syria, a notable proportion of women endure challenging social and economic conditions, often leading them to enter into multiple marriages. Contrary to marrying for companionship and a sense of home, these women primarily seek financial stability and security, even if temporary. Um Wadih, aged 74, exemplifies such experiences. Her search for security led her to enter her fourth marriage at the age of 64, only for it to end two years later, forcing her to return to her son's modest home.

Until women's rights are safeguarded and economic disparities are addressed, women will continue to suffer under the weight of patriarchal norms and systemic discrimination.

Reflecting on her tumultuous marital history, Um Wadih tells Raseef22 about a series of disappointing unions. Her first marriage, lasting 17 years, ended when her husband took a new wife, leaving her with no choice but to seek divorce and retreat to her siblings’ home, unable to support her children financially. Subsequent marriages brought deceit and disappointment, with promises of property ownership unfulfilled and circumstances leading to further divorces.

Um Wadih, like many other women in Syrian society, faced the grim prospect of returning to her family home upon the dissolution of her marriages. Struggling with health issues exacerbated by a lack of resources, Um Wadih's situation epitomizes the dire consequences of societal norms and economic disparities faced by Syrian women.

In the southern regions of Syria, a notable proportion of women endure challenging social and economic conditions, often leading them to enter into multiple marriages. Contrary to marrying for companionship and a sense of home, these women primarily seek financial stability and security, even if temporary.

Additionally, Um Wadih's post-divorce roles as a "nurse" or "companion" in subsequent marriages underscore the limited options available to older women, often relegated to caretaking roles rather than equal partnership within marriages.

Breaking the Cycle: Struggles for Independence

Manal, 47, endured a tumultuous first marriage marked by abuse and violence. Despite suffering for nine years, she could only escape after a severe beating landed her in the hospital. However, the lack of legal repercussions for her husband left her with no choice but to seek a divorce. Returning to her family's home, Manal faced pressure to remarry due to financial constraints and societal expectations. Her second marriage brought temporary stability until her husband's illness led to his death, forcing her back to her parents' home. Despite facing eviction due to not having children and inheritance rights, Manal fought back, leveraging legal avenues to reclaim her rights and rebuild her life.

The societal expectation for women in Syria to marry older, financially stable men often perpetuates a cycle of dependency and vulnerability.

Similarly, Lina's experience underscores the vulnerability of women from impoverished backgrounds. Despite her education and aspirations, Lina's first marriage to a financially stable man turned sour due to familial conflicts and her husband's controlling behavior. Left to support her children alone after the divorce, Lina remarried an older, wealthier man in hopes of securing stability. However, she soon realized the fallacy of her decision as she faced further abuse and manipulation. Lina's narrative highlights the harsh realities faced by women who, lacking financial independence, are coerced into marriages for survival, only to endure further hardship.

Psychologist and activist Kholoud Huneidy highlights gender discrimination in Syrian society, where women are coerced into marriages as a means of escaping poverty and social ostracism.

Societal Pressures and Economic Coercion

The societal expectation for women in Syria to marry older, financially stable men often perpetuates a cycle of dependency and vulnerability. Women, facing economic hardships and societal pressures, reluctantly agree to marriages that offer temporary financial security but often result in further marginalization and exploitation. This practice reflects deep-rooted gender inequalities, where women are viewed as subordinate to male authority figures, leading to their economic and social disenfranchisement.

In the event of a wife's death, particularly if the husband is elderly, the search for a replacement wife ensues, relegating women to the role of caretakers with minimal rights and limited autonomy. Despite promises of dowries and financial support, these arrangements rarely guarantee women a stable and dignified life, further exacerbating their precarious circumstances.

Psychologist and activist Kholoud Huneidy highlights the insidious nature of gender discrimination in Syrian society, where women are coerced into marriages as a means of escaping poverty and social ostracism. She underscores the lack of recourse for women facing such pressures, as societal norms often normalize these practices, perpetuating cycles of exploitation and abuse.

Lawyer Wafaa Al-Ashoush underscores the importance of raising awareness among women about their legal entitlements, as many remain unaware of their rights and fail to challenge unjust practices due to societal pressures and fears of social stigma.

Huneidy emphasizes the increasing number of women who "decide unwillingly" to marry as a solution to poverty, loneliness, or societal pressure. She describes the dilemma faced by women's advocates in a society where coerced marriages are socially accepted, portraying them as a deal for survival that often results in further exploitation and loss for women.

Feminist activist Najwa Al-Tawil identifies economic violence as a pervasive form of abuse against women, compelling them to marry for shelter and financial security. This systemic exploitation not only perpetuates gender disparities but also perpetuates cycles of violence and subjugation, leaving women with few alternatives for economic stability and social advancement.

Legal Failings and Women's Rights

Wafaa Al-Ashoush, a lawyer, highlights the systemic injustices perpetuated by legal frameworks that fail to protect women's rights in Syria. She asserts that as long as laws remain inadequate in safeguarding women's inheritance, employment opportunities, and financial independence, the prevalence of gender-based exploitation and discrimination will persist and escalate.

An example is Article 307 of the Syrian Personal Status Law, which disproportionately favors male inheritance rights within the Druze community, leaving women with meager entitlements such as a small storage room. This legal disparity further exacerbates women's vulnerability, depriving them of essential resources and autonomy.

Moreover, Al-Ashoush criticizes the glaring deficiencies in Syrian marriage laws, which prioritize male authority and fail to recognize women's rights to housing and financial security. Women trapped in abusive marriages often find themselves without legal recourse, as existing laws offer little protection against coercion and exploitation by their spouses.

Al-Ashoush underscores the importance of raising awareness among women about their legal entitlements, as many remain unaware of their rights and fail to challenge unjust practices due to societal pressures and fears of social stigma.

In conclusion, the plight of Syrian women trapped in exploitative marriages underscores the urgent need for legal and societal reforms to ensure gender equality and justice. Until women's rights are safeguarded and economic disparities are addressed, women will continue to suffer under the weight of patriarchal norms and systemic discrimination.


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