Syria: Syria breaks taboo on violence against women

Syria has broken a taboo by presenting a high profile study on violence against women, which found that one in four married women gets beaten -- usually by her husband or father.
The study, released this week by the state-run General Union of Women and funded by United Nations Development Fund for Women, sheds light on the nature and extent of violence against women in Syria.
It also coincides with calls for a campaign to raise awareness of the problem.

The results of the Syrian survey appear in line with studies in Egypt, Britain and the United States, but campaigners said it breaks new ground simply by drawing attention to the issue.

"This was a courageous study because it touched upon the very sensitive subject of violence against women, which is an essential part for improving the status of women," said United Nations Development Fund for Women spokesman Aref Sheikh.

Violence against women in Syria tends to be a family affair. Over 70 percent of abusers are husbands, fathers or brothers while married women are most likely to get hit, it said.

Excuses for the violence range from neglecting house work to bombarding husbands with too many questions, the study found.

Less than one percent of surveyed women said they had been subjected to violence from a complete stranger.

Encouraging a woman in Syria to report violence from family members is not easy, a Syrian lawmaker said.

"Even though a man would go to prison if his female relative reported him for assault, it is very rare in our society ... because that would bring shame onto the family," Syrian member of parliament Souad Bukour told Reuters.


Bukour, who is also the president of the General Union of Women, said she and other activists hope the media and religious leaders will help them drive home their message.

"Our society has an overall male imprint, so we want to raise awareness through programs like short drama series ..., and involve Muslim and Christian religious leaders," she said.

The status of women in Syria, though better than in many developing countries, still needs improvement, she said.

Last month Najah Attar, a writer and former culture minister, was appointed vice president. Women hold 12 percent of Syria's parliamentary seats, the highest rate along with Tunisia in the Arab world.

"Syria has made significant achievements... And the gender gap in education is reduced to the point where as many women attend college as men," said Tamara Saeb, UNICEF spokeswoman in Damascus.

But like in some other Arab countries, Syrian law stipulates lenient sentences to men who murder women relatives suspected of having sex outside marriage in what is known as "honor killings." Other murderers usually get the death penalty or life without parole.

Some experts estimate that there are about 200 to 300 "honor" crimes a year in Syria, mostly in rural or nomadic communities. This means about half of murders committed in Syria every year are against women and in the name of honor.

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