Syrian refugee, Oum Ali, wipes away tears as she recalls her escape from Aleppo. Photo credit: Mohamed Azakir / World Bank
If we read, watch or listen to the news, we are aware of the extended and intense conflict in Syria and the staggering social disruption that has resulted. Over 6.5 million people have been displaced within the country and more than 2.5 million Syrians are registered as refugees in countries nearby. Those combined numbers represent an excess of 40 per cent of the pre-conflict population.
It is of no surprise that in such circumstances, women and girls have been particularly at risk. Both women within Syria and those who have fled have been put at risk of increased incidence of gender-based violence (GBV) in general, and sexual violence in particular.
A recent report from UN Women — ‘We just keep silent’ Gender-based violence amongst Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (April 2014) — explains that “the experience of forced relocation has meant increased levels of violence and insecurity for women and girls.” Disturbingly, it goes on to say that “more than half of those interviewed for this report stated that fear of rape was a primary driving factor for their fleeing Syria — a finding similar to that found in a 2012 assessment in Lebanon.”
Sexual violence experienced in Syria prior to leaving was reported in all of the focus groups and young women in particular indicated that they voluntarily curtailed their time spent outside the home as a result. Risks remained after leaving Syria, however, with a range of GBV issues including higher rates of intimate partner violence, sexual harassment, early and forced marriage and honour killings, to name a few.