The human rights of women in Syria Between discriminatory law, patriarchal culture, and the exclusionary politics of the regime
Citizenship is defined, in its simplest form, as the direct relationship between the state and citizens—female and male—in which the state guarantees them a set of rights and privileges, established by the constitution and regulated by laws. In return, citizenship requires a set of responsibilities within the limits of the laws applicable in a given state.
Citizenship is conditional on three factors: 1) the right to acquire a nationality; 2) the rights and duties arising from the acquisition of nationality (equality before the law); and 3) participation in public life.
In Syria, obtaining Syrian citizenship did not automatically enable women (or some men) to gain access to all their rights, whether political, economic, cultural, or social. Many structural factors have contributed to preventing this, perhaps most prominent of which is the blatant legal discrimination against women. Syrian law abounds with many clauses that are discriminatory on a gender basis, be it the law denying Syrian women the right to grant citizenship to their children, personal status laws, property laws, the penal code, or others. This legal discrimination is thus one of the most prominent factors that has undermined, and continues to undermine, the status of women as active citizens in society, due to the forms of vulnerability that the law enshrines.
Therefore, in the transitional phase through which Syria is passing, and in order to ensure gender-sensitive transitional justice mechanisms, the concept and application of active citizenship for women (and men) must be placed within two contexts. The first is an understanding of the complex nature of this relationship between women as citizens and the state in the period leading up to 2011. The second requires a multifaceted understanding which includes: 1) a gender analysis of women’s political and legal statuses, linked with the compounded forms of legal, administrative, and gender-based discrimination that women have suffered since 2011, especially in cases of asylum and displacement; and 2) an understanding of the nature and forms of “intermediation 1 in relation between the state and citizens,” whether old or new, that have come to govern the relationship between women and the state, and consequently women’s access to the full range of rights and social entitlements.2
Such an intersectional analysis would contribute to identifying transitional justice mechanisms from a gender perspective, by monitoring and documenting the legal violations that affected women before and during the conflict. Subsequently, it could make for the application of mechanisms of reparations to address the grievances suffered by women. This is to be done through highlighting the forms of structural discrimination and its tools (political, security, patriarchal, sectarian, and economic) which establish unequitable status for women in regards to citizenship. Accordingly, gender-sensitive transitional justice mechanisms must expand the existing mechanisms for monitoring and documenting violations so that they are not limited to legal discrimination, but rather extend to the causes that contribute to it. Accordingly, these gender sensitive transitional justice mechanisms will, gradually and systematically, lay the foundations for the equal status of women as active citizens in society in political, societal, economic, and other terms.
In an effort to research the effects and consequences of systematic legal exclusion, social marginalization, and the regime’s punitive practices (administrative, political, and security) in perpetuating women’s vulnerability and promoting legal, and societal, exclusion of women, and the consequences on women’s status as citizens with deficient rights, a series of field consultations were held to explore the views and positions of women in Syria, Turkey, and Lebanon regarding these issues. The consultations were organized by Dawlaty and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, in partnership with Zenobia, Release Me, Nophotozone, Start Point, Syrian Women Survivors, and Damma. These consultations also aimed at monitoring the gender effects of successive displacements on women, and the failure of judicial and legal structures to address the undermining of women’s legal and social status. In this effort, the organizations involved sought to develop a preliminary conception of transitional justice mechanisms in need of adopting a gender perspective.