Related topics

Activists: U.N. Report Broke Syrian Taboo

April 11, 2006

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) _ A U.N.-funded report on violence against Syrian women that appeared in state-run media broke a long-held taboo against public discourse on such issues, activists said Tuesday.

The activists said they hope the government’s willingness to publicize the matter will help raise awareness in this conservative society.

The study found that about 22 percent of married women in Syria said they had been verbally or physically assaulted, with about 10 percent saying they had been beaten.

Of that 10 percent, eight in 10 said the beating came from a family member, the study found.

The state-run Al-Baath newspaper ran a story about the news conference announcing the study’s results, though the results themselves were not published. The report quoted activists saying that women were subjected to violence daily and that some laws discriminated against women.

Still, the mere publication of the report was an indication the government, which controls many aspects of political life and the media, wanted to raise awareness.

``Violence against women always existed in Syria, like any other society. But talk about it is new,″ said Muna Ghanem, head of the state-run Family Affairs’ Association, a branch of the General Union of Women. She said the group was preparing to run awareness campaigns on TV.

It was not clear why President Bashar Assad’s government allowed the report to appear. Since coming to power in 2000, Assad has embarked on limited economic and political reforms, easing some of the rigid restrictions in place under his late father.

Unlike many countries in the conservative Arab world, women in Syria have reached high political positions, but activists say their status within society still lags behind.

The study, released last week by the state-run General Union of Women, was funded by the United Nations Development Fund for Women.

Aref Sheikh, the coordinator in Syria of the U.N. fund, said some in Syria’s government do support the discussion of such social problems, while others deny the problems exist.

He said the study could serve as the basis for debate and action by politicians to change laws.

``It’s very important to put the issue of violence against women in Syria on the table and discuss it publicly,″ Sheikh told The Associated Press.

The study of nearly 1,900 families said women were beaten for reasons ranging from neglecting housework to bombarding husbands with too many questions.

Mohammad Habash, head of the Islamic Studies Center and a legislator, said the report’s figures were ``horrible″ but added that violence against women is ``part of the prevailing mentality in the region.″

Ways to deal with the issue include pressing for a change in the way Muslim societies look at women and in developing laws relating to women, activists said.

Still, Syria has made important strides.

Syria boasts the highest-ranking female official in the Arab world, Najah al-Attar, appointed second vice president about three weeks ago. The country also has two female Cabinet ministers out of 30.

There are 30 women lawmakers in the 250-seat legislature, and 19 percent of lawyers in Syria are women.


Associated Press reporter Dale Gavlak in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.

Update hourly