25 November marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The situation of women in Syria is among the worst in the world in the context of the civil conflict.
Throughout the Syrian civil conflict, human rights violations committed against women have abounded. Several forces involved in the conflict have been responsible for these violations, including the Syrian regime and extremist militant groups, most prominently ISIS, as well as Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).
The Syrian Network for Human Rights has estimated that around 7,700 Syrian women were subjected to sexual violence and harassment by the regime’s forces. This includes violations committed against women who were kept in prisons.
As for extremist groups, they have imposed exceedingly harsh laws on women, heavily restricting their freedoms in the public domain and even intruding in their private lives. ISIS, for instance, had also infamously kidnapped thousands of women and used them as sex slaves. The terrorist group also developed a sophisticated infrastructure to facilitate the slave trade market.
ISIS also indoctrinated women became members of the group, leading to deadly consequences. Several ISIS-affiliated women enacted torturous punishments on other women who were deemed to have infringed upon the strict laws imposed by the terrorist group on them. Many of these ISIS-affiliated women, mostly settled in the al-Hol IDP camp, are now known to be one of the most prominent threats in Syria.
Aside from accusations directed towards these institutionalised groups, society is also to blame for the pressures imposed on women in Syria in their daily lives. Misogynist stereotypes continue to blight perceptions of women in a society with patriarchal foundations.
Nevertheless, efforts are being made to reinforce women’s rights and to make women’s voices heard in the public arena. Several organisations mainly operating in the north of Syria have taken the responsibility of representing women’s interests in the country in the absence of an overarching state that is willing to defend their rights. These organisations have focused on ways to tackle violence against women from a structural perspective, critiquing the social norms that negatively impact the lives of women.