Women Survivors Initiative in Syria

Alaa Morle

20 October 2020

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Sexual Violence by Force of Arms Against Women in Syria: A Tool of Political Repression, Social Dismantling and Impoverishment of Women and Communities

Sexual Violence by Force of Arms Against Women in Syria: A Tool of Political Repression, Social Dismantling and Impoverishment of Women and Communities

By introducing a feminist approach based on a gender analysis of sexual violence crimes in Syria, Dawlaty and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom have sought extensive and consistent coordination with Syrian feminist organizations working inside Syria and in neighboring countries, which included the holding of planning and training sessions. This was followed by a series of field consultations with Syrian refugee women, displaced women, or women influential at the grassroots level, probing their views and their own feminist analysis of sexual violence. More than sixty women participated in these consultative sessions in Idlib (Syria), Bekaa – Al Marj (Lebanon), and Gaziantep and Urfa (Turkey), facilitated by partner organizations including Syrian Women Survivors, Zenobia, Start Point, Release Me, Dammeh, and NoPhotoZone. These organizations added crucial qualitative value in determining the context, substance, and course of field consultations, as well as organizing them and commenting on their outcomes. Women Now for Development also played a prominent role in providing technical consultation and support during the field work that preceded this paper and ameliorated its contents, providing the outcomes of field consultative sessions with data that greatly contributed to developing the credibility of the paper and its consistency with Syrian feminist demands.

The purpose of these consultations was to present a package of feminist demands regarding the treatment of sexual violence in Syria; one that looks at the intersecting effects of military, political, economic, cultural, and social factors and their impact not only on women as individuals, but also on their collective status and political and economic positionality in society. As such, direct demands can target these impacts and outcomes vis-à-vis women’s roles during the transitional period and pertinent forms of transitional justice from a gender perspective.

This paper examines crimes of sexual violence in Syria from a feminist analytical gender-perspective, and in doing so, seeks to influence the scope of addressing sexual violence in Syria and the approaches therein, in order to move from description of the issue to analyzing its gender effects. It is therefore not limited to listing the forms of sexual violence, their occurrences and the parties involved, nor to monitoring “individual” effects on women, but rather goes further to examine structural (socio-cultural, economic, and political) dimensions, monitoring the effects of sexual violence on the political and social positionality and status of women, on the one hand, and linking it to the political economy of war and sexual violence, and its effects on the perpetuation of women’s “inferior” political status, on the other.

Standing, as we may be, on the cusp of the transitional phase in Syria, it becomes particularly important to monitor and address (from a gender perspective) the root causes of sexual violence, not only on women as a group, but on the intersectional aspect of this impact on women’s collective political and economic positionalities. This is particularly the case with regards to the political economy, war economy , sexual violence, and the fertile grounds that promote these forms of exclusion based on patriarchal cultural and social structures.