DAMASCUS, Syria — Oasis, Syria’s first shelter for battered and abused women, opened its door the first week of August.
“The importance of our shelter is that we are the first shelter to be officially authorized,” says Youmn Abou Alhosn, board member of the Association for Women’s Role Development, which supervises both the Oasis shelter and a juvenile detention center it founded earlier. “This allows us to push for more shelters and provides a basis for changing the laws. But our main purpose is to protect. We don’t want to provoke the governmental bodies we are working with or our societies.”
Abou Alhosn says violence against women here is typically treated as a private family matter that goes unrecorded and unprosecuted.
According to a 2005 study prepared by the Syrian Federation of Women, 1 in 4 Syrian women suffered domestic violence at the hands of male relatives. While that’s comparable with levels around the region and the world, the country’s response to the problem has so far been lagging.
Before the Oasis shelter — which opened with 30 beds and plans 50 — the main refuge for battered women in Damascus was the Christian Sisters of Good Shepherd convent, which operates a shelter, runs a daily hotline and offers free legal counsel. The convent declined a visit request from Women’s eNews, citing its wish to keep a low profile.
Muna Al Assad, a lawyer volunteering at Good Shepherd, says its counseling — for both Muslim and Christian women — often focuses on reconciliation because divorce has such negative consequences in Syrian society. Few battered women, she said, choose to take their cases to court.
“Even if the woman considered going to the legal system, where she might get partial fairness, people around her will resent her if she is strong enough to do it,” Al Assad says. “They will outcast her because normally the person who committed the violence is her husband, father or brother.”
Al Assad has worked on 13 domestic violence cases in 17 months. Of these, only one resulted in divorce. In that case the victim’s family supported her.
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