The phenomenon of Syria female refugees in Jordan marrying in exchange for money, for a limited period of time, has sparked harsh reactions from both officials and the public. These reactions have pushed Jordanian courts to issue a decision banning Syrian women from marrying anyone but their relatives. This comes alongside rights campaigns aimed at defending these women and preventing their exploitation, including a campaign called "Refugees Not War Captives."
Reports of Syrian female refugees being raped or forced into marriage are multiplying. However, they're now breaking their silence and confronting the culture of shame and female subordination that comes from their environment and communities, Bissan al-Sheikh writes.
Al-Hayat (Pan Arab)
Refugees Not War Captives
September 12, 2012
September 16 2012
Given that these marriages are basically legalized rape in the case of young girls, or masked prostitution for older women, the fact remains that these contracts don't necessarily depend on a court decision or a religious ruling. They are often finalized through oral contracts, or through the consent of both parties (or rather forced consent). Whether we are talking about eloping, "touristic" marriages, pleasure marriages or "friends" marriages, these are all just labels for a marriage that is not subject to laws that protect the interest of both parties. More than that, in these cases one party is deprived of all rights and protection.
Although these reports have recently emerged from Jordan, this country does not have a monopoly on what is happening to Syrian women. News of young women being raped has also leaked from refugee camps in Turkey. However, these reports coincided with the start of the revolution, when people were more concerned with the "issues" than they were with the people affected by them. Moreover, as a result of social and political considerations, this issue has been kept secret, with only individual cases being reported in the media.
The reality is that rape in times of war — as well as contracts made in a hurry for the sake of sexual satisfaction — means that the man has no obligations toward the woman. This is not a recent phenomenon or something unique to Syria. Perhaps the most recent similar example is what Iraqi female refugees were exposed to when they fled to neighboring countries, including Syria. To a great extent, their experiences involving humiliation and degradation resemble what Syrian women are facing today. These experiences have driven a number of women to commit suicide, or to flee from their families as a result of not being able to cope with the "shame" imposed on them. Although international organizations have mentioned such cases in their reports, and have taken on the role of caring for these young women, pressures resulting from a "culture of shame" has prevented them from turning this into a humanitarian issue. It is not elevated to the same level as issues relating to victims of war, requirements for national reconciliation or beyond.
However, Syrian refugees are now breaking the silence and confronting the culture of shame and female subordination that comes from their environment and communities. Activists have been the first to raise their voices against these violations, and have worked — in secret and in public — to fight against them. It certainly isn't easy to openly discuss issues relating to rape or such degrading forms of marriage, especially when it involves young girls. However, making sure that the victim realizes that she alone does not bear the burden of this social ailment, requires a lot of courage, collaboration and solidarity. Breaking the silence on such individual and intimate issues requires a special kind of revolution, a revolution that is truly initiated by Syrians.