SYRIA: Action Needed to Protect Syrian Women and Girls

Sunday, August 26, 2012
Global Arab Network
Western Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Findings of the Assessment of Gender-based Violence in Syria include violence against women and girls, rape, kidnapping, killings, exploitation, trafficking, sexual abuse and domestic violence

In March 2012, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) conducted an assessment of gender-based violence experienced by refugee women and girls in Syria who'd fled to safety in northern Jordan. Over a two week period, the IRC spoke with more than 90 refugee women and girls, 23 service providers, and conducted safety audits to identify the types of violence women and girls experienced in Syria. The assessment also examined protection risks they face in Jordan, as well as the availability and accessibility of support.

The Findings of the Assessment:

1- Women and girls identify rape and kidnapping as reasons that families are fleeing Syria. Many of those the IRC interviewed reported that armed men entered homes and raped women and girls in front of family members, sometimes killing them afterwards. Others reported cases of pro-government forces coercing husbands at gunpoint to rape their wives. One interviewee described a father shooting his daughters and then himself following their rape; another group told of a man who shot his daughters in order to protect them from soldiers who had broken into their house. The IRC was also told of armed men kidnapping girls on their way to school or abducting others while searching homes for family members allied with the Free Syrian Army. There were reports of those kidnapped never being seen again.

2- Survivors are unlikely to report rape due to strong cultural norms that perceive rape as dishonoring the family. While focus group participants in the assessment believed that family members would protect and care for a survivor raped as a result of armed conflict, fear of social stigma and ostracism would make it difficult for survivors to come forward and seek services. As one woman explained, “If a girl was raped, she cannot speak about it because even if it [support services for survivors] exists, she can't go because they will kill her.” As a result, Women and girls face obstacles to accessing confidential medical and psychosocial support and services for survivors of rape in the transit facilities and northern Jordanian towns where many recently arrived refugees are living.

3- Adolescent girls and young women face a heightened threat of early and coerced marriage as households seek to lessen the burden of dependents on their rapidly dwindling resources. Refugees and service providers widely report that Jordanian residents are actively seeking young Syrian brides, creating demand that is difficult to ignore for families unable to provide for their basic needs. Some families turn to marriage as a method of preserving family honor if a daughter has been raped.

4- Increased risks of exploitation and trafficking for women and girls who are often forced to turn to unknown men for assistance.

5- An increased risk of sexual abuse and domestic violence was identified in safety audits. Women complained of overcrowded housing conditions providing little or no privacy.
Many UN agencies and NGOs have started to put resources in place to respond to the needs of victims of gender based violence. Largely, however, the ability of women and girls to safely and confidentially come forward with their experiences and access trained personnel and specialized services remains lacking and inconsistent.

Recommendations to UN Agencies and Humanitarian Organizations

Ensure access to quality reproductive and sexual healthcare in keeping with the Minimum Initial Service Package and Inter Agency Standing Committee Guidelines for GBV Interventions in Humanitarian Settings, including clinical care for survivors of rape and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.

Provide training and technical support to enable local NGOs to offer survivor-centered, confidential case management and psychosocial support.

Establish spaces where women and girls can safely access accurate information about services and seek emotional support and referrals to other services.

Establish cash transfer programs aimed at economically stabilizing households in which girls and single women are at risk of early or coerced marriage.


Syrian Refugees GBV advocacy note, August 2012

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world's worst humanitarian crises and helps people to survive and rebuild their lives. Founded in 1933, the IRC offers lifesaving care and life-changing assistance to refugees forced to flee from war or disaster.