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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 27 Jun 2018, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Burkinis Should Be Allowed In German Swim Classes, Says Family Minister

New Age Islam News Bureau

27 Jun 2018

Germany's family minister has defended the use of the Burkini in schools, saying that the swimsuits could help Muslim girls integrate



 Pakistan’s Southern Punjab Female Candidates Set to Challenge Feudal Lords

 No Turning Back On a More Inclusive Saudi Arabia, Says Princess Reema

 Saudi Women Launch All-Female Ambulance to Allow For Greater Privacy

 Dutch Senators Approve Partial Ban on Burqa

 Far-Right Group Targets Famous Statues in ‘Ban the Burqa’ Protest

 French Delegation Lauds Saudi Reforms For Women

 Mastercard Welcomes Saudi Female as New Marketing Manager for Saudi Arabia

 Women's Centre Opens Its Doors to Formerly Displaced In Iraq's Qaraqosh

 AK Party to Have Highest Number of Female Lawmakers in Turkish Parliament’s New Term

 Raped, Shamed, Surviving: The Legacy of War For Syria's Women

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau




Burkinis Should Be Allowed In German Swim Classes, Says Family Minister

25 June 2018

Germany's family minister has defended the use of the Burkini in schools, saying that the swimsuits could help Muslim girls integrate.

Earlier this month, a school in western Germany sparked debate after offering Burkinis to students who would otherwise not attend swim classes.

The burkini has been a controversial topic across Europe.

The French city of Cannes was last week ordered to repay a fine given to a woman wearing the garment.

The issue began when a school in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) bought 20 Burkinis - paid for by private donations - for use by its female students, according to the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung.

Fifteen girls who would normally have refused to attend mixed swimming lessons have since been able to take part thanks to the swimwear, which covers the whole body except the face, hands and feet.

The school's decision caused outrage among conservative lawmakers in Germany, where over a million refugees, mostly from the Middle East and Afghanistan, have arrived in recent years.

Julia Klöckner, the deputy leader of Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said that the decision "cemented a discriminatory understanding of women's role in the very place where children and young people learn the opposite and should develop freely", while NRW's deputy integration minister said it sent out "the wrong signal".

But Family Minister Franziska Giffey, from the centre-left Social Democrats, responded on Sunday by saying: "The most important thing is the well-being of the children and that means that everyone learns to swim."

She argued it was justified for schools to allow the burkini to be worn in class and warned against portraying the issue "as the downfall of the West".

Separately, a court in the French city of Nice ruled that an €11 (£10) fine imposed on a woman wearing a burkini in Cannes two years ago was illegal.

The move had come in the wake of a series of incidents including the Bastille Day truck attack in Nice.

At the time, France introduced a controversial ban on burkinis, which was later lifted in seaside resorts after the top administrative court overturned the decision.



Pakistan’s Southern Punjab Female Candidates Set to Challenge Feudal Lords


June 27, 2018

ISLAMABAD - In a surprise departure from the male-dominated politics, Southern Punjab is set to see several female candidates challenging the feudal lords and the traditional electable.

The female candidates hailing from underdeveloped areas are mostly relatives of the politicians who could not contest elections due to some reasons. Some of them representing mediocre families are contesting for the first time with the aim to bring about a change in the poverty-stricken area.

Zartaj Gul Wazir from DG Khan set to contest from NA-191 against the feudal lords of the area. In 2013 general elections, Zartaj had secured around 40,000 votes.

The female candidate preferred to contest polls from her constituency for the second time with the aim to promote education in her area.

“I want to promote education in my area and will continue to fight the feudal political system,” Zartaj Gul Wazir shared with The Nation. She believed that education is a revenge of every excess, claiming she has forced feudal lords of the area for the first time to run their election campaign.

All eyes are set upon NA-191 Dera Ghazi Khan where Zartaj Gul is challenging the Leghari Sardar. She has reportedly remained in contact with the masses after losing the election 2013.

In the area of Taunsa Sharif (bordering KP in the north and Balochistan in the east, Rashida Farhan from ‘Aam Admi Tehreek’ party is contesting from the NA-189. The lady from underdeveloped area has the aim to eliminate ‘Vani’ custom and promote education in the area.

Vani (custom), or Swara, is a cultural custom found in some parts of the country whereby a young girl is forcibly married as part of punishment for a crime committed by her male relatives.

“I will fight for the people of my area facing a lot of issues. I will try to become the voice of people in the parliament to raise genuine issues,” Rahida Farhan claimed while talking to The Nation. Her husband is also contesting on the seat of MPA from same area.

In the area of Vehari, Ayesha Nazir Jutt is contesting from NA-162 as an independent candidate. She was earlier awarded ticket from PTI but later withdrawn. However, the estranged PTI leader had said that she would give the party chairman a gift after winning the seat of NA-162.

In the area of Muzaffargarh, Zehra Sultan Bokhari wife of the political figure Basit Bokhari is also set to contest against his close relative from NA-184.

Likewise, Khadija Warran wife of political figure Amir Warran after the disqualification of her husband announced to contest from the seat of NA-173 (Bhawalpur area). She is contesting for the first time on the seat of National Assembly.

In the area of Bahawalnagar, Fatima Bashir Cheema daughter of renowned political figure Tahir Bashir Cheema is set to contest from NA-168.  Tehmina Dasti daughter of late Abdul Hameed Dasti from Muzaffargarh is set to contest from NA-182.

Political observers predicted that the trend will increase in the coming years with the enhancement of the literacy rate in the country. They referred to the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and several women who broke the traditions to head the govt, preside over the parliament proceedings or lead the ministries in the recent past. They indicated that success of the women on general seats will set the precedent for more female political activists to join the bandwagon.



No Turning Back On a More Inclusive Saudi Arabia, Says Princess Reema

June 27, 2018

JEDDAH: Now that the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia has been lifted, there will be no turning back as the Kingdom moves forward to a more inclusive future, Princess Reema bint Bandar said in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

“It’s a relief and now, honestly, the onus is on us to take the next step forward in the growth of the inclusion of women in our community,” the executive vice president of the General Sports Authority said in an interview that aired a day after the ban was lifted.

“I’m wonderfully excited. I’m excited for everybody that actually stayed up and got in the car at midnight to take this drive because the symbolism of that is that we’re taking control, but we’re taking control collectively,” the princess said. “This isn’t a singular activity, this isn’t an anomaly. This is our current state, and this is the future state. This isn’t something you go back from.”

Princess Reema credited the “monumental shifts” that have taken place in the past year since Mohammed bin Salman was appointed crown prince. “We went from a community saying no, do not participate in sports, to women entering the stadiums, to traveling the world with young female athletes and that’s just in my small sector.”

The princess said a “critical conversation” about the country’s guardianship law is already happening. “Everyone is having this conversation, the women in government are having the conversation. The timeline of this change is not what I’m in control of, but the dialogue and the narrative is there,” she said.

“I can tell you as a divorced mother of two, this is urgent...Is it going to happen today? I couldn’t tell you. Would I like to see it in the near future? Absolutely.”

Princess Reema was one of the first to retweet Arab News’ animated online illustration of a Saudi woman driving, titled “Start Your Engines,” by renowned artist Malika Favre.



Saudi Women Launch All-Female Ambulance to Allow For Greater Privacy

26 June 2018

Saudi female doctors have launched an ambulance service with all female staff to serve women and grant them more privacy.

A team of female doctors at a governmental hospital in Khobar, east Saudi Arabia, came up with the idea, which they view as in line with their humanitarian and national duty.

The announcement of this invention comes in the same week Saudi women took to streets to drive after a longtime ban was lifted by royal decree.

Dr Amal al-Sulaibekh, one of the team members, said the idea was to channel their humanitarian efforts through an invention after empowering Saudi women to drive at last.

Paramedics and drivers of the ambulance vehicle will respond to distress calls from women in the Eastern Province. They will transfer them to hospitals upon injury or if they go into labour, as part of a community service project aimed at giving women more privacy.

Al-Sulaibekh said working in emergency requires doctors to stay on call around the clock, noting that she learned how to overcome her job’s challenges, and how to increase her expertise as she undergoes those difficult moments.



Dutch Senators Approve Partial Ban on Burqa

June 27, 2018

THE HAGUE - Dutch senators overwhelmingly approved a bill Tuesday to ban the Islamic full-face burqa from some public places such as schools and hospitals, ending years of discussion on a hot-button issue.

“The Senate has agreed with the bill,” the upper house of parliament said in a statement on its website.

“The bill proposes a legal ban on wearing clothing that completely covers the face or only shows the eyes, in educational institutions, on public transport, in government institutions and hospitals,” it said. The bill was approved by 44 to 31 votes in the 75-seat Senate and is the final hurdle before it becomes law.

It was supported by three of the four political parties in Prime Minister Mark Rutte ruling coalition, apart from the progressive D66 party which voted against.

Dutch Internal Affairs Minister Kajsa Ollongren - who is herself a D66 member - will now talk to government bodies such the police about how to implement the ban which carries a fine of some 400 euros ($466).

The Dutch cabinet approved the plan in mid-2015 but then decided not to go as far as banning burqas on the country’s streets.

Dutch approval follows similar bans imposed in Austria, Belgium, France and Germany and comes amid rising tensions in Europe with Islamic communities.

France was the first European country to ban the full-face veil in public spaces in April 2011.

The European Court of Human Rights upheld that burqa ban in 2014, rejecting arguments that outlawing full-face veils breached religious freedom.

The law has resulted in some 1,600 arrests since it came into force and violations can result in fines of up to 150 euros.



Far-Right Group Targets Famous Statues in ‘Ban the Burqa’ Protest

Jun 26, 2018

Activists from the far-right identitarian movement Generation Identity covered various female statues in the UK and Ireland over the weekend, calling for a ban on the burqa.

The group covered statues of women with makeshift niqabs in London, Manchester, Bath, Folkestone, Canterbury, Edinburgh, Belfast, and Dublin. Signs which read ‘Is this the future you want?’ were placed on each statue.

Local Muslims condemned the stunt in Belfast, with Naomi Green of the Belfast Islamic Centre arguing that the ‘dangerous stunt’ was proof of their ‘paranoid nonsense’ about Muslims and Islam. She added that the group sought to cause division where none had existed before.

Deprived of a voice on Facebook, Generation Identity continues to use Twitter without much censure, a tweet about its latest stunt gained hundreds of retweets and ‘likes’.

The platform has been slow to respond to criticism and has, in recent months, suspended the accounts of more high-profile users from the far-right.

Facebook confirmed to the i newspaper that it had permanently banned the group, citing its policy on extremist content but Twitter has not taken a similar stance despite the fact that the @GID_England account tweeted last year, “Islam rears it’s ugly head in Barcelona, many innocents injured or dead. Reconquista now more important than ever. #BarcelonaTerrorAttack.”

The Reconquista (reconquest) reflects a dark period of Spanish history, where the crown sought to violently expand its empire by reclaiming parts of the Iberian Peninsula from Muslim hands. This conflict gained religious papacy in the eleventh and twelfth centuries and morphed into a crusade against Islam. As the historian, Joseph Callaghan argues, there was a continuation of ‘territorial aggrandisement’ throughout twelfth-century Spain. Others point out how the ideology of the reconquest united the Iberian Christians against a fragmented Muslim leadership.

The forced expulsion of Jews by the Spanish crown in 1492 was repeated centuries later with the expulsion of 300,000 Moriscos – Muslims who had nominally converted to Christianity after the surrender of Granada in 1492, after more than a century of discrimination and marginalisation which included the banning of the Arabic script by royal decree in 1508. For Dr Elizabeth Drayson, at the University of Cambridge, the completion of the Reconquista had “ended seven centuries in which Christians, Jews and Muslims had, for the most part, lived peacefully and profitably together.”

Some have also questioned the historiography which surrounds the reconquest in Spain. But the radical and far-right are often guilty of creating their own historiography in an effort to reshape public memory by placing certain events in a modern and misleading narrative about Islam and Europe. So, it should come as no surprise that Generation Identity sought to link this historical event and anti-Muslim violence and discrimination to the modern era.

Generation Identity’s use of food banks and stunts aim to occupy a space in a far-right scene where the likes of Tommy Robinson and the leadership of Britain First are in prison. The proscription of National Action (and its affiliates) along with the jailing of its key members for criminal offences has also created a vacuum for neo-Nazi groups like the System Resistance Network to occupy. Ukip, meanwhile, has accepted the membership of individuals linked to the so-called ‘alt-right’ and ‘alt-light’, a marked shift from the outwardly Islamophobic posturing of the party under the leadership of controversial MEP Gerard Batten, who continues to argue that Islam is a ‘death cult’. Some are concerned that the far-right will seek to re-organise around the ‘Free Tommy’ movement

Generation Identity in the UK and Ireland has a small base benefits from slick social media and ease of media coverage about its activities. Others have been critical about the coverage of Generation Identity in the Sunday Times last month, with the print edition wrongly using the headline, ‘Heil Hipsters’.

The Home Office has denied entry to four activists from Generation Identity. One member, however, who remains banned from entering the UK, Tore Rasmussen, has now found a base in Dublin, Ireland, according to a report in the Times. On June 12, Rasmussen tweeted, “You can’t make this sh*t up; Inbreeding is now the number one killer of Pakistanis in London.” He used the hashtag ‘#CulturalEnrichment’ to attack multiculturalism. This ironic use of the hashtag is popular among the broader far-right online to chastise multiculturalism and demean marginalised groups as inherently violent or culturally menacing.

An online petition, made by the Generation Identity, makes the racialised and offensive claim, “Eventually, you would be able to mistake some places In the UK for areas of Saudi Arabia or Iran.”

The ideology of Generation Identity is rooted in ethnopluralism. In short, this old idea rejects multiculturalism and instead favours segregation along ethnic and cultural lines through geographic distance, in the belief that mixing of groups will result in cultural extinction – hence their obsession with the ‘great replacement’. This belief is grounded in the construction of various threats to their group identity, which is reliant upon not just the ‘othering’ of Muslims and refugees, but in its rejection of political elites and institutions like the European Union, believing that such entities hinder their ethnopluralist aspirations.

A key aim of ethnopluralism, as argued by other academics, is one of expulsion, which may explain their obsession with a racialised framing of demographics under the hashtag ‘#StopTheGreatReplacement’. Others argue that ideas around ‘ethno-identity’ are replacing traditional concepts of nationalism.

Again, activists claim the group is not opposed to individual Muslims, citing that it remains hostile to the nebulous concept of ‘Islamification’ or ‘Islamisation’. But again, other activists shatter this claim, with some using social media to blame Muslims for child sexual exploitation.

The concerning restrictions on religious freedoms when it concerns the niqab or burqa have expanded to other parts of Europe in recent months. Denmark, Norway, and now the Netherlands now have some form of public ban.

This provocative series of stunts from Generation Identity aims to reframe an ongoing debate, a debate the current government has always rejected, with Theresa May, who said last year: “what a woman wears is a woman’s choice”. And to boost its media profile despite its small base of support. The nature of the co-ordination, however, in this latest series of stunts is concerning.



French Delegation Lauds Saudi Reforms For Women

June 26, 2018

JEDDAH: Amelia Lakrafi, head of the French National Assembly delegation, member of the foreign affairs committee and the Saudi-French Friendship Committee, expressed her appreciation of Saudi Arabia’s decisions to enhance the role of Saudi women, commending especially the decision to allow women to drive that took effect recently.

This came during a meeting of the Saudi-French parliamentary friendship committee, chaired by the Council’s Chairman Prince Khalid bin Abdullah bin Mishari at the Council headquarters in Riyadh on Tuesday, with members of the French National Assembly, headed by Lakrafi, who are currently visiting the Kingdom.

Prince Khalid pointed out that the decision to allow women to drive comes as part of the efforts of the state to enhance the status and role of women in accordance with the principles of Islamic law. He stressed the Kingdom’s commitment to combating terrorism and defeating its criminal schemes at national, regional and international levels.

The French delegation praised the Kingdom’s reforms in relation to women’s affairs in various fields.



Mastercard Welcomes Saudi Female as New Marketing Manager for Saudi Arabia

June 27, 2018

CELEBRATING another major milestone in its commitment to developing the next generation of female business leaders, Mastercard, a leading technology company in the global payments industry, proudly welcomes Reema Nezar Al Shammasi as the first woman to join its Riyadh office, following her appointment as the marketing manager for Saudi Arabia.

In this newly created role, Reema will lead Mastercard’s brand engagement strategy in the Kingdom, enabling the company to better serve the needs of its growing base of customers and advance its in-country marketing strategy.

“Reema is a vital addition to the team, and we are delighted to welcome her as she steps into her new role. Saudi women have a unique perspective to offer, and her appointment serves as a testament to our commitment to supporting the Kingdom’s vision to bring more women into the private sector, and will enable us to forge stronger partnerships with our stakeholders,” said J.K. Khalil, Cluster Head, Saudi & Bahrain, Mastercard.

“We are excited to be expanding our presence and marketing capability in Saudi with the appointment of Reema. She is a dynamic marketing professional with a deep understanding of the local market, and through her leadership capabilities, she is set to inspire other young women to harness their full potential as economic assets and pursue careers in the technology sector,” said Beatrice Cornacchia, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications, Middle East and Africa, Mastercard.

Women in Saudi Arabia are emerging as an important consumer segment following a number of national reforms that encourage them to play a greater role in the country’s economic growth and development. For instance, the Saudi Vision 2030 aims to increase the participation of women in the workforce from 22% to 30%, creating new opportunities for companies operating within the Kingdom and highlighting the need to better understand their impact on business strategies.

Al Shammasi joins Mastercard from Nestlé where she served as the Brand Manager, responsible for business planning and project management, brand strategies, alignment with regional teams, monitoring market and consumer trends, and managing multi-channel campaigns amongst other responsibilities. In the past, she has also served in the marketing divisions of Saudi-based organizations including Nada and Mayar Foods.

Fluent in Arabic and English, Al Shammasi holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Otago, and a Graduate Diploma of Commerce from the Lincoln University in New Zealand. — SG



Women's Centre Opens Its Doors to Formerly Displaced In Iraq's Qaraqosh

Marta Bellingreri

June 26, 2018

“What should I do at home all day?” Wassa Nimrud asked Al-Monitor. “I am coming every day to Beit al-Nisa and improving my skills in sewing.” Nimrud is one of the women attending training sessions to become a professional tailor. Her second home, after she was displaced in Iraqi Kurdistan during the Islamic State's (IS) three-year occupation, has become Beit al-Nisa, the Women’s House, in the Assyrian-Christian city of Qaraqosh, 25 miles south of Mosul in the Ninevah Plains.

Every morning, each room at Beit al-Nisa is full of women working — as cooks, tailors, hairdressers, professional trainers and students. In addition, women can enroll in language and computer classes. “Before [IS’] occupation, in our town we didn’t have a house for women,” Vivine Elias, the tailor and trainer, told Al-Monitor. “Now that the city is still half empty, at least we have our own place to work and learn. To be together!”

IS proclaimed its self-styled caliphate built on fear in Mosul in June 2014, and its occupation had spread to Qaraqosh by that August, where a minority of Muslims, mostly Turkmens and Shabaks, have always lived. “Qaraqosh’s citizens cannot forget that frightening night of Aug. 6, 2014, when the entire population fled when [IS] was advancing to take their city. We escaped, not knowing our destiny,” Nimrud said. “We lost everything, we ran away without anything.”

Half of Qaraqosh was destroyed. Churches and monasteries were desecrated, while public buildings, shops and private houses were looted and razed. Its citizens were displaced throughout Iraq and, by now, much of the world. Today, almost one-third of Qaraqosh’s pre-IS population has returned home. As commercial and community life is trying to resurrect itself, the Women's House was founded.

“The idea of a house for women was conceived spontaneously during our displaced life and in the displaced camps” Nival Nabil, one of the project’s coordinators, told Al-Monitor. “In the camps, people could not spend the whole day in the tents, especially during the summer where the temperature reached 45 C [113 F]. So women felt the need to reunite, to do social activities and organize themselves to work together.” Back in the camps, the Italian nongovernmental organization Focsiv listened to their requests, supported women’s activities and today manages the Women's House, employing women who steadily work there.

“Beit al-Nisa was inaugurated in Qaraqosh in November 2017, a year after the liberation from [IS],” Jabber Mustapha, Erbil’s Focsiv coordinator, told Al-Monitor. “Each training course lasts one month, 20 days a month, three hours per day. But this is not just a place for training, it’s a safe place to meet; for example, in the night women come and sit in the small court to speak.”

Women aged 18-45 can register at Women’s House and choose their training or activity. “At the end of each course, we offer the women a tool to continue to practice their skills at home, such as a sewing machine or kitchen’s tools to cook,” Nabil said. “Furthermore, we would like to invest some money to found a sort of cooperative where women manage their own shops.”

“Before the women’s center was born and before 2014, I used to work at home as a hairdresser,” Ruweida Atem said. “Now that I am teaching here, our dream is to open a salon in the town, which is still partly destroyed but in need of commercial activities.”

Muslims have also returned to Qaraqosh. Muslim women, together with their fellow Christians, are attending these training classes, hoping to start their own new activities in Qaraqosh. Sehmiya, 21, who belongs to the Shabak minority, said, “We were afraid as well when [IS] arrived and we escaped all together. This is our town and so we came back here.”

Another Muslim woman, Asimah, was displaced in southern Iraq, near Iran’s border, and only recently could come back home. “My neighbors, who are all Christian, told me about the Women’s House. My family agreed, and so I started a tailor class. I want to work and be independent.”

Although the Iraqi government claimed victory over IS in December 2017, the group's presence in the country in areas such as Ninevah, Anbar and Salahuddin provinces can still be felt. Terrorist attacks on a weekly basis in different provinces continue to shake Iraq, as security forces arrest IS members daily in Mosul.

Iraqi citizens are ready to work and rebuild their futures in a bid to stabilize Iraq, and women continue to play a major role investing their skills, expertise and qualifications to reunite hope.



AK Party to Have Highest Number of Female Lawmakers in Turkish Parliament’s New Term

June 27, 2018

The highest number of female deputies was elected from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in the June 24 parliamentary elections, unofficial results showed on Tuesday.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's party, which won 295 spots in the 600-seat parliament, is set to appoint women deputies to 52 of these positions. Women will make up 17.82% of its lawmakers this term, up from its previous 11 percent.

However, proportionately, the pro-PKK Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) had the most female parliamentarians as 24 of the party's 67 deputies are projected to be women, marking a 38.8 percent female representation rate

Meanwhile, the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) scored below the parliamentary average of 17.67 percent, with just 19 female deputies out of 146, amounting to a mere 13 percent.

AK Party's ally the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) came close behind the CHP, with five female deputies out of 49, recording a dismal 10 percent female representation rate in parliament.

Former interior minister Meral Akşener's newly-formed IYI Party (Good Party) was the worst performer in terms of gender equality and female representation in Parliament, with only 4.4 percent of its 44 lawmakers women. Akşener will not be among the party's three female lawmakers.

The People's Alliance, formed between the AK Party and MHP clinched victory in Turkey's 27th general elections Sunday by receiving 53.6 percent of the votes.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also claimed yet another victory in the country's political history with his re-election in Sunday's presidential elections, with 52.6 percent of the vote. For the next five years he will serve as the 13th president of the Turkish Republic.



Raped, Shamed, Surviving: The Legacy of War For Syria's Women

June 26, 2018

Sara's story is so harrowing, and the potential risks to her so high, that we meet her in a nondescript home in an undisclosed location in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

In her past life, now so far away, the 35-year-old owned a clothes and perfume shop in Homs, Syria’s third city.

“Life was so lovely before. I had children, my four children. I was so happy: I had a house, and my children used to go to school and come back,” Sara recounts, sitting next to a brasier and dark wood furniture in the stark apartment. “I was so happy. I was surrounded by my family.”

But when conflict gripped the city in 2011, the children’s journeys to and from school were replaced by cowering under their mother’s bed or beside the wardrobe to protect them from mortar blasts.

The family moved to the city centre, which was the theatre of brutal clashes between government troops and opposition fighters in the early years of the Syrian war, which entered its eighth year this March.

One morning, Sara says, a group of tall, muscular men carrying weapons entered a warehouse where she and a group of around 20 other women were sheltering with their children.

One of the men raped her in front of her daughter.

“I felt like I was going to die. I felt like I wanted to die and I was telling him to kill me,” she remembers.

“My daughter was telling me to take my clothes off so they wouldn’t kill us. I couldn’t take my clothes off, but my daughter was begging me, ‘Please mama, take off your clothes or they’ll kill us and my brothers and sisters.’ And that’s why they raped me. That’s what happened.”

Sara believes around half of the women in the warehouse were raped, with the attackers touching those they suspected of being virgins before assaulting them further. To this day, she does not know the attackers’ identities or political affiliation.

The rape was not the end of Sara’s ordeal. Gunmen shot her oldest son, 11-year-old Marwan, dead during the clashes, but the family was forced to flee before they could bury him.

“We were running, I couldn’t stop to go back to my son, I couldn’t go back to him, because all our lives were in danger. I left my son dead on the ground and I ran.”

Sara has never told her husband about the rape, for fear that he will abandon her, or worse.

“We face cultural issues: If I tell him [what happened], my husband will say I am a shamed woman. He will tell me it’s correct [halal] to kill me.”

Her fear of shame is widely shared among Syria’s rape survivors, some of whom have committed suicide as a result of their ordeals.

Abaad, a women’s rights organisation founded in Lebanon in 2011, uses individual case management, counselling and training for professionals to help Syrian rape survivors overcome feelings of shame and depression.

“Needs vary from survivor to survivor and we base our approach around them”, Abaad senior GBV case management supervisor Zeinab Mortada tells The National. “Confidentiality is the basis of our work with them because the women really fear their communities finding out.”

In a major report released in March, the UN said that rape and other forms of sexual violence have been used systematically throughout Syria – mostly by government forces and allied militias – in acts that amount to a war crime. Although male rape has occurred, particularly in prisons, women and girls have been most affected.

“Sexual violence and killings regularly took place in parallel. Women and girls who were raped often witnessed the killing of male relatives, and in several instances eyewitnesses recalled women and girls being killed after being raped,” were among the report’s harrowing findings.

Multiple instances of abuse are all too common among Syrians.

When Sara fled across the border to Lebanon, where she now lives with her husband and three surviving children, she was raped a second time by a Lebanese man. The man tricked her husband into leaving the couple’s home, before coming to rape her.

“[Afterwards] when he was leaving the house, he spat on me and said, ‘All of you Syrians are like this. You’re cheap.’”

Sara’s ordeal of multiple attacks is not unique, either.

Nour, a mother of four from a Damascus suburb, was beaten and raped by her husband in Syria, whom she says ran away when the war began. When she later fled to Lebanon, she was attacked while working as a seamstress, only fending off the assailant with a pair of scissors.

“This was the most difficult day I’ve been through in my life: in Lebanon, a strange person putting their hands on me and trying to rape me”, she describes. “This situation took me back to very dark periods of my life. I was being abused, and I came to another abuse that I don’t know anything about.”

Despite their compounded experiences, Syrian rape survivors in Syria and refugee-hosting countries often lack support. Meanwhile, the UN warns that the risk of sexual violence is only likely to increase as the conflict wears on.

“As displacement becomes protracted, the risk of sexual and gender-based violence persists and may even intensify”, the UN’s 2018-19 Syria refugee response plan reported.

“Syrian refugee women in Lebanon are at a very high risk for harassment, discrimination and violence”, said Dr Maria Alabdeh, executive director of Women Now for Development, a Paris-registered NGO supporting women in Lebanon and Syria.

Nour is now teaching her daughter about women’s rights and hopes to become a psychotherapy assistant.

“I changed from an oppressed, disenfranchised woman,” she says. “Now no-one can cross the line with me to make me an abused woman.”

But the likelihood of the women achieving justice through the courts is low.

“In Lebanon, there is very little hope for these women. We need to start looking at refugees as rights-holders, not mere beneficiaries of aid,” said Dr Alabdeh. “Only that way can we ask for their rights to be fully respected.”

For now, the women focus on their lives, their children’s futures, and their home.

“I want to find work, I want to learn,” says Sara. “I want to teach my children. I want to go back to my country. I want to reconstruct my house. I want to visit my son’s grave.”




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