Women in Syria

Women in Syria

A female university student in Damascus, Syria in 2010
Gender Inequality Index[1]
Value 0.556 (2013)
Rank 125th out of 152
Maternal mortality (per 100,000) 70 (2010)
Women in parliament 12.0% (2013)
Females over 25 with secondary education 29.0% (2012)
Women in labour force 13.4% (2012)
Global Gender Gap Index[2]
Value 0.5661 (2013)
Rank 133rd out of 144

Women in Syria are women who live in Syria. Women constitute 49.4% of Syria's population.[3]

Syria ranks 125th out of 152 in the Gender Inequality Index[1] and 133rd out of 144 in the Global Gender Gap Index.[2]


In the 20th century a movement for women's rights developed in Syria, made up largely of upper-class, educated women.[4] In 1919, Naziq al-Abid founded Noor al-Fayha (Light of Damascus), the city's first women's organization, alongside an affiliated publication of the same name.She was made an honorary general of the Syrian Army after fighting in the Battle of Maysaloun, and in 1922 she founded the Syrian Red Crescent.[5] In 1928 Lebanese-Syrian feminist Nazira Zain al-Din, one of the first people to critically reinterpret the Quran from a feminist perspective, published a book condemning the practice of veiling or hijab, arguing that Islam requires women to be treated equally with men.[6]

Peasant in 1961

In 1963 the Ba'th Party took power in Syria, and pledged full equality between women and men as well as full workforce participation for women.[7]

In 1967 Syrian women formed a quasi-governmental organization called the General Union of Syrian Women (GUSW), a coalition of women's welfare societies, educational associations, and voluntary councils intended to achieve equal opportunity for women in Syria.[7]

While Syria has developed some fairly secular features during independence in the second half of the 20th century, personal status law is still based on Sharia[8] and applied by Sharia Courts.[9]

Syria Comment described that Syrian women have been able to acquire several rights that have not been granted to their counterparts in other Arab nations. Such rights include the custody of children aged 15 years old or younger with a court order.

Syrian women are legally allowed to participate in everyday life, although they are not guaranteed a spot in being part of political, social, cultural and economic categories. The legal marriage for females in Syria is seventeen years old and eighteen for males. Early marriage is not out of the ordinary in their culture. Even though the legal age is seventeen, the courts can allow for girls as young as thirteen to be married. Women are technically allowed to have a say in what the agreements are between them and the groom. Although, since this contract has to be signed by the groom and the male guardian of the bride, her wishes are rarely met. On the other hand, of marriage, the divorce laws are unique in Syria. Women are in fact allowed to file for divorce except it is a long drawn out process and she must get consent from her husband. There are some circumstances in which the woman can apply for a divorce through the judicial system. In order to do this, she must prove that her husband has abused her or neglected his other duties as a husband. If a man wants to divorce a woman, all he has to do is go to court and orally demand a divorce three times, then the court will order him a divorce.[10]


The early schooling in Syria starts at six years old and ends at the age of eighteen. In Syrian universities, women and men attend the same classes. Between 1970 and the late 1990s, the female population in schools dramatically increased. This increase included the early school years, along with the upper level schools such as universities. Although the amount of women has increased, there are still ninety five women to every one hundred men. Although many women start going to school, the dropout rate for women is much higher than for men.

The literacy rate for women is 74.2 percent and 91 percent for men.[11] The rate of females over 25 with secondary education is 29.0 percent.[1]


In 1949, women in Syria were first allowed to vote and received universal suffrage in 1953.[12] In the 1950s, Thuraya Al-Hafez ran for Parliament, but was not elected. By 1971, women held four out of the 173 seats.[13]

The nation of Syria considers itself a republic. Therefore, its government consists of an executive, legislative, and judicial branch of government. The current president of Syria is a male by the name of Bashar al-Assad. There are also two vice presidents (including female vice president Najah al-Attar since 2006), a prime minister and a cabinet. As of 2012, in the national parliament men held 88% of the seats while women held 12%.[14] Current Syrian Parliament is led by female Speaker Hadiya Khalaf Abbas.

Role in economy and in the military

In 1989 the Syrian government passed a law requiring factories and public institutions to provide on-site childcare.[7]

In 2011, still only 13.1% of Syrian women participated in the labour force, compared with 71.6% of Syrian men.[14]

Women are not conscripted in the military, but may serve voluntarily. The female militias of Syria are trained to fight for the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. A video was found dating back to the 1980s with female soldiers showing their pride and protectiveness toward Assad's father.[15] "Because women are rarely involved in the armed side of the revolution, they are much less likely to get stopped, searched, or hassled at government checkpoints. This has proved crucial in distributing humanitarian aid throughout Syria."[16]

Women's health

Between 2010 and 2015, the average life expectancy at birth for women in Syria is 77.7 years, compared with 74.5 years for men.[14]

Crime against women

In 2010 0.7% of female Syrians were intentionally murdered, compared with 4.5% of male Syrians. Syria is currently under a "rape crisis". Prior to the civil war in Syria, rape was relatively rare.[14][17]

Federation of Northern Syria - Rojava

Further information: Rojava and Kongreya Star
Member of the YPJ with a standard uniform

With the Syrian Civil War, the Kurdish populated area in Northern Syria has gained de facto autonomy as the Federation of Northern Syria - Rojava, with the leading political actor being the progressive Democratic Union Party (PYD). Kurdish women have several armed and non-armed organizations in Rojava, and enhancing women's rights is a major focus of the political and societal agenda. Kurdish female fighters in the Women's Protection Units (YPJ) played a key role during the Siege of Kobani and in rescuing Yazidis trapped on Mount Sinjar, and their achievements have attracted international attention as a rare example of strong female achievement in a region in which women are heavily repressed.[18][19][20][21][22]

The civil laws of Syria are valid in Rojava, as far as they do not conflict with the Constitution of Rojava. One notable example for amendment is personal status law, in Syria still Sharia-based,[8][9] where Rojava introduced civil law and proclaims absolute equality of women under the law and a ban on forced marriage as well as polygamy was introduced,[23] while underage marriage was outlawed as well.[24] For the first time in Syrian history, civil marriage is being allowed and promoted, a significant move towards a secular open society and intermarriage between people of different religious backgrounds.[25]

The legal efforts to reduce cases of underage marriage, polygamy and honor killings are underpinned by comprehensive public awareness campaigns.[26] In every town and village, a women's house is established. These are community centers run by women, providing services to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and other forms of harm. These services include counseling, family mediation, legal support, and coordinating safe houses for women and children.[27] Classes on economic independence and social empowerment programs are also held at women's houses.[28]

All administrative organs in Rojava are required to have male and female co-chairs, and forty percent of the members of any governing body in Rojava must be female.[29] An estimated 25 percent of the Asayish police force of the Rojava cantons are women, and joining the Asayish is described in international media as a huge act of personal and societal liberation from an extremely patriarchical background, for ethnic Kurdish and ethnic Arab women alike.[30]

The PYD's political agenda of "trying to break the honor-based religious and tribal rules that confine women" is controversial in conservative quarters of society.[24]

Notable women


  1. 1 2 3 "Table 4: Gender Inequality Index". United Nations Development Programme. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  2. 1 2 "The Global Gender Gap Report 2013" (PDF). World Economic Forum. pp. 12–13.
  3. "Syria Population". Syria Population. 7 Apr 2015.
  4. Smith, edited by Bonnie G. (2005). Women's history in global perspective. Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press. p. 100. ISBN 9780252029905.
  5. "Syrian Women Making Change". PBS. 19 July 2012. Retrieved 15 March 2013.
  6. Keddie, Nikki R. (2007). Women in the Middle East: past and present. Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. 96. ISBN 9780691128634.
  7. 1 2 3 Tohidi, ed. by Herbert L. Bodman, Nayereh (1998). Women in muslim societies: diversity within unity. Boulder (Colo.): L. Rienner. p. 103. ISBN 9781555875787.
  8. 1 2 "Syria". Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. p. 13. Retrieved 2016-11-16.
  9. 1 2 "Islamic Family Law: Syria (Syrian Arab Republic)". Law.emory.edu. Retrieved 2016-11-16.
  10. "Legal rights - Syria | Kvinfo.dk". kvinfo.org. Retrieved 2015-04-21.
  11. "Syria - Educational System—overview". education.stateuniversity.com. Retrieved 2015-04-21.
  12. Pamela, Paxton (2007). Women, Politics, and Power: A Global Perspective. Thousand Oaks, California: Pine Forge Press. pp. 48–49.
  13. Moubayed, Sami. "A History of Syrian Women". The Washington Post.
  14. 1 2 3 4 "Syrian Arab Republic". United Nations Statistics Division. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
  15. Sly, Liz; Ramadan, Ahmed (2013-01-25). "The all-female militias of Syria". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2015-04-21.
  16. "How Syrian Women Are Fueling the Resistance". Foreign Affairs. 2013-03-07. Retrieved 2016-09-06.
  17. Number of rape incidents per 100,000 citizens by country, Nation Master 2008
  18. "Female Kurdish fighters battling ISIS win Israeli hearts". Rudaw. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
  19. "The Fight Against ISIS in Syria And Iraq December 2014 by Itai Anghel". The Israeli Network via YouTube. 22 December 2014. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
  20. "Fact 2015 (Uvda) – Israel's leading investigative show". The Israeli Network. 22 December 2014. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
  21. "Kurdish female fighters named 'most inspiring women' of 2014". Rudaw. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
  22. "Kobani: How strategy, sacrifice and heroism of Kurdish female fighters beat Isis". International Business Times UK. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
  23. "Kurdish 'Angelina Jolie' devalued by media hype". BBC. 2016-09-12. Retrieved 2016-09-12.
  24. 1 2 "Syrian Kurds tackle conscription, underage marriages and polygamy". ARA News. 15 November 2016. Retrieved 2016-11-16.
  25. "Syria Kurds challenging traditions, promote civil marriage". ARA News. 2016-02-20. Retrieved 2016-08-23.
  26. "Syrian Kurds give women equal rights, snubbing jihadists". Yahoo News. Retrieved 9 January 2016.
  27. Owen, Margaret. "Gender and justice in an emerging nation: My impressions of Rojava, Syrian Kurdistan". Retrieved 9 January 2016.
  28. "Revolution in Rojava transformed the perception of women in the society". Retrieved 9 January 2016.
  29. "The Rojava Model". Foreign Affairs. 14 October 2016.
  30. "Syrian women liberated from Isis are joining the police to protect their city". The Independent. 13 October 2016. Retrieved 2016-10-14.
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