News / Middle East

Women in Syria's Kurdistan Region Work to Stop Sexual Violence

FILE - Syrian refugees wait to cross the border into the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq.
FILE - Syrian refugees wait to cross the border into the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq.
Sexual violence against women has skyrocketed in Syria since the outbreak of the two-and-half year civil war, say rights campaigners, who in the chaotic circumstances of the brutal conflict have been trying to document cases.  And advocates for women say all too often incidents of sexual violence against women are swept under the carpet because of a sense shame or fear victims will be killed to save their families’ honor.  But, in Syria’s Kurdistan local women activists are trying to help abused women and change attitudes.
 
Elehma Omar is a mother of four and grandmother of a thirteen-year-old girl.  For a year now she and other volunteers at a women’s center in a quiet residential area of Qamishli, the Kurdish-dominated Northeast’s largest town, have been seeking to counsel abused women and women suffering from domestic violence and even to intervene to protect teenage girls being forced to marry much older men by parents desperate for money.
 
“I was a housewife before the war but I thought I had to help women – all women regardless of whether they are Kurd, Arab or Christian,” she says.
 
Earlier this week, to coincide with the International Day to End Violence Against Women, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network issued a report warning that Syria’s war has “created a context ripe for violence against women, including sexual violence.” The report detailed cases of women having been raped in detention, used as human shields during military operations and kidnapped to pressure and humiliate family members. Sexual violence and rape has been used as a weapon of war to terrify and punish, says the report.

"Abuses against women [have been used as a] deliberate tactic to defeat the other party from a symbolic and psychological perspective, making women desirable targets as the conflict rages on," according to the report.

In Syria’s Kurdistan al-Qaida-affiliated militiamen inflicted a reign of terror earlier this year on towns and villages they occupied until forced out of many by Kurdish fighters. Women were often targeted.

“They claim to be Muslim and they have their rigid religious codes when it comes to women’s modesty and dress but is it Muslim to believe a man can place his hand on a woman’s head, intone three times Allahu Akbar and then claim the woman as his wife?” That is what jihadists were doing, she said.

In Qamishli and other towns women were kidnapped by jihadists or criminal groups for ransom and if returned had often been raped, the volunteers at the center say. 
In a swath of the northeast freed of jihadists now there is relative calm with internal security and policing of the area handled by the People’s Protection Units, or YPG. But that doesn’t mean abuse of women has stopped, says women’s center director Omar. In wartime, she notes, women have it particularly hard.

Child brides and honor killings

Rapes still occur and so too the marrying off of teenage girls. When they hear of proposed marriages involving underage girls, the center seeks to intervene and to persuade families not to go ahead.
 
Shehanaz Amin (left) and Elehma Omar run the women’s center in Qamishli, a Kurdish-dominated city in northeast Syria.Shehanaz Amin (left) and Elehma Omar run the women’s center in Qamishli, a Kurdish-dominated city in northeast Syria.
x
Shehanaz Amin (left) and Elehma Omar run the women’s center in Qamishli, a Kurdish-dominated city in northeast Syria.
Shehanaz Amin (left) and Elehma Omar run the women’s center in Qamishli, a Kurdish-dominated city in northeast Syria.
“It is a problem in all of Syria, including in Kurdistan. We have a family who sold their 17-year-old daughter to a 70-year-old man,” says Omar shaking her hijab-covered head. For her and her deputy Shehanaz Amin the most distressing cases involve rape and their efforts to stop honor killings. There have been five known honor killings in Syria’s Kurdistan this year but local activists suspect there have been dozens more.
 
The stigma of sexual assault runs deep in Syrian culture as it does across the Middle East; rape is shaming and casts dishonor. For the women’s center rape cases pose a terrible dilemma – the activists’ priority is to ensure a raped woman isn’t killed to safe family honor. The only alternative, they say, is to persuade the rapist and raped to marry – an awful, torturous prospect for an abused woman, they acknowledge. “Otherwise they would be killed,” says Amin sadly.
 
The same dilemma has faced women in volunteer Kurdish police units. Naline Kozi, the thirty-year-old commander of a 50-strong all-women internal security unit in Qamishli, says she has had to handle five cases of rape in the last few months. “We keep the girls to protect them from their families and until we manage to get the men to marry them,” she says.
 
“The choice is between honor killing and marriage. We know that it is hard and we know it is unjust but in our opinion, it is all we can do,” she sighs.

You May Like

Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Seen as a potential driver of recovery, Cairo’s plan to expand waterway had been raising hopes to give country much needed economic boost More

Ebola Maternity Ward in Sierra Leone First of its Kind

Country already had one of world's highest maternal mortality rates before Ebola arrived, virus has added even more complications to health care More

Malaysia Flight 370 Disappearance Ruled Accident

Aircraft disappeared on March 8, 2014; with ruling, families of 239 passengers and crew can now seek compensation from airline More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Adam Seker from: Nyack, NY
November 28, 2013 9:15 AM
The revolution in Rojava is indeed a feminist revolution. I am proud of the achievements of Kurdish women there.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Productioni
X
George Putic
January 29, 2015 9:43 PM
The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Production

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Crowded Republican Presidential Field Off to Early Start for 2016

It seems early, but the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign is already heating up. Though no one has officially announced a candidacy, several potential Republican contenders have been busy speaking to conservative groups about making a White House run next year. Many of the possible contenders are critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid