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July 30, 2013

Gender-Based Violence Increasing Among Syrian Families

by Jamie Dettmer

For many Syrian women who have sought sanctuary in neighboring Lebanon from a civil war that has so far left an estimated 100,000 dead, their refuge is laden with new dangers. Even within their own families there is sometimes no safety.  
 
Syrian female refugees who fled to neighboring Lebanon to escape the dangers of the civil war in their own country say they are experiencing more strife within their families. They say jobless husbands frustrated by the stress and indignity of living as refugees lash out, beating wives and hitting their children.
 
They also report increasing sexual abuse from husbands and other male relatives.
 
Aid workers say it is hard to discover how widespread the domestic violence and abuse is. But they say more women are coming forward to seek help and advice on how to cope with violent husbands and abusive male relatives. That, they say, is significant. Arab cultures teach women to shy away from discussing such problems with strangers.
 
The Lebanese branch of the non-governmental organization Developmental Action Without Borders runs seven centers for women and children in Lebanon.  According to Qassem Saad all of them are seeing more Syrian women complaining of abuse. 
 
“We have discovered a lot of girls particularly they suffer from sexual abuse inside their houses," Saad explained, "particularly from their uncles or little brothers for example. But you know in this community, it is a Muslim community and the people, the Muslim people, they have their own problems. But they don’t want to see it. They don’t want to admit they have the problems.”
 
With Syrian refugee families often living in grossly overcrowded conditions, sharing shabby rented apartments or living in abandoned buildings or tents, frustration and anger are brimming over. And men, aid workers say, often express their rage by committing violence on their women.
 
Maryam, 31, mother-of-five who fled with her family from their home in a Damascus suburb, said her husband has changed towards her and the children since they arrived in Lebanon.  
 
She said her husband himself never used to hit any of the children. Now he will hit the children. He will scream at her. He will shout at her. These things they never had when living in Syria.
 
According to a social worker, Maryam has also been beaten by her husband, but this is something she did not want to admit to a male stranger.
 
The United Nations has registered more than 600,000 Syrians as refugees in Lebanon, but the Lebanese government estimates there are at least one million and are bracing for more. 
 
Many of the refugees are already suffering from stress disorders as a consequence of what they have endured in Syria, witnessing the violent deaths of relatives and friends and the loss of homes. 
 
“We are doing a lot of psychosexual work with them," explained Saad, adding that sexual abuse and domestic violence is adding to the woes of the women.  "We try to provide them by techniques how they can defend themselves and how to cope the situation that they are living inside their houses. In some cases we are in contact with the Lebanese security because sometimes you have to protect them, to protect them by law.”
 
The law can help only up to a point. Marital rape does not exist within the Lebanese legal code.