The sexual harassment of Syrian women
Lebanon and Turkey
Project Monma travelled to Lebanon and Turkey in January 2016 to research how violence has affected Syrian women refugees in Lebanon and Turkey. We met with a number of Syrian women and local organizations working with refugees.
Turkey has taken in an estimated 2.7 million Syrian refugees according to the United Nations. In a report by the Association for Human Rights and Solidarity With the Oppressed, found that sexual harassment is a serious problem for Syrian women in Turkey, particularly for those living outside refugee camps. In situations where women are unable to support themselves, they face the risk of becoming victims of human trafficking gangs, early or temporary marriages and survival sex. The report found that the rate of Syrian women’s employment was low and with language problems and other factors discriminating against women, it made it difficult for women to find legitimate jobs. Many women have ended up becoming cleaners, babysistters or working in agriculture, factories or service sectors.
Lebanon is currently hosting approximately 1.2 million refugees from Syria according to the United Nations. Amnesty International has reported sexual harassment and sexual exploitation of female Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Women report that Lebanese men offer money in exchange for sex, taking advantage of their vulnerability. Almost all women reported that they were sexually harassed in public by their neighbors, bus and taxi drivers, strangers in the street and also sometimes by police officers and government employees. Women refugees in Lebanon also reported exploitation by employers or who asked them for sex.
Lilian Salloum from the Danish Refugee Council in Beirut said that Syrians are limiting their daughters from going to school because they fear that something might happen to their daughters on the way to school. This has resulted in many girls having to stay home.
Kafa (Enough) and woman’s rights organization in the Bekaa valley that gives free psychological support and legal assistance to women who have experienced violence said, ‘It is difficult for us to convince the Syrian women that what she has experienced is violence and to push forward with taking legal action against a man who has abused her.’ ‘She’s afraid. She’s taught that she has to obey her husband. The culture is the most dangerous thing for a Syrian woman in war. She doesn’t have the right to defend herself.’
Survival sex by refugees is occurring both in Lebanon and Turkey with women and girls being forced into prostitution as a way of surviving. Early marriage is also being used in both Lebanon and Turkey as a means of survival.
Amima’s and Fatima’s story
We met with two sisters from Syria in a small distribution centre in Gaziantep, Turkey. Both women in their 40’s fled the armed conflict by paying people smugglers to bring them across the border to Turkey. Their arrival into Gaziantep in Turkey did not offer much relief from the violence in Syria. Both women reported sexual harassment from local men.
“We are suffering,” said Amima. “Syrian women in Turkey are being harassed by men of all ages. I am 45 years old and am constantly harassed, age doesn’t matter.
“We have been told that if we want to work, we have to do sexual favors for them,’ said Fatima. “We have been forced to leave many jobs because of this problem. Male landlords are offering to reduce the rent in return for sexual favors.”
“I have heard Turkish men praying that the war will never end so they continue to have a supply of vulnerable women,” said Amima in a dimly lit room.
“Men from the Gulf countries come to Syria to buy young girls,” said Amima. “Women are being bought and sold into marriage, so that they buyer can legally have sex with the girls. They then dump them and leave them. Women are being sold like real estate.”
Om Noor’s story
In a tented settlement in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, we met with Om Noor. She fled Syria after her husband abandoned her and her five daughters in Syria. Refugee life has not proved easy for Om Noor and her daughters. As she said, “It’s when I arrived in Lebanon that I began to face the real difficulties.”
With five daughters to feed Om Noor has struggled to find a means to survive. She has tried searching for a job but found that employers were asking her to sleep with them in return for work. “Many women have tried to work in factories but have had to quite their jobs due to harassment from their bosses,” she explained.
Om Noor explained how with few financial choices, she sold her 15 year old daughter into marriage. The couple divorced after a month when the husband became abusive. Om Noor’s daughter now dreams of becoming a photographer and a journalist.