Baptist Global Response
Associated Project: Syria Crisis
MIDDLE EAST— Jala,* a refugee, sits in a crowded room in Lebanon with other Syrian refugee women who gathered for Bible study. She makes a bold announcement.
“People really need to pray for the women in Syria because they are being raped,” she says.
Jala describes some of the horrific things she has seen and heard — women being raped in their homes or while fleeing the country and some being taken as brides of the militia.
“They steal, they kill and they rape in the name of God,” Jala says.
In the two years since the war began, the death toll in Syria has climbed above 90,000 people. The plight of women, though, is seldom discussed.
Other women at the Bible study reiterate Jala’s point — pray for the women.
It’s common knowledge in the Middle East that it is easy to find a Syrian bride.
In a culture where honor is highly esteemed, a woman is considered defiled after suffering an assault. Many families struggle with how to react and marry their daughters off quickly.
A Washington Post article published in November 2013 focused on the growing reality of Syrian brides being married off to men from around the Middle East. “Of course I would rather her marry a Syrian, someone from our community, but what can we do?” Abu Yousef said of his daughter, whose husband was killed in the Syrian uprising.
Yousef reluctantly consented to the arranged marriage of his widowed daughter, 27, and her three children to a 55-year-old retired Saudi engineer.
Many families like Yousef’s are allowing these marriages in order to remove their daughters from refugee camps, hoping they will find a better life.
In the countries surrounding Syria — Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Jordan — single mothers can be seen walking the streets begging for money or food.
Some women have become prostitutes in order to provide for their families.
“Women are prostituting themselves in Lebanon for between 5,000 and 10,000 lira (about $3 to $6),” says Christian worker Catherine Steel.* With no husbands and no job skills, these women find prostitution is their last resort.
Andrew Harper, a representative of the UN refugee agency UNHCR, said on BBC News, “I can’t think of anything more disgusting than people targeting refugee women. … You can call it rape, you can call it prostitution, you can call it what you want, but it’s preying on the weakest.”
In a situation that seems desperate, women are left not knowing what to do, how to provide for their young children or how to survive. Praying for these women is tremendously important, Steel says.
Another challenge is that many married women do not leave their houses because their husbands fear their new city and the dangers it may hold.
“Their husbands are their lives — everything they do is decided by their husband,” says Steel.
She asks the church to pray for the husbands as well.
Most Syrian women are accustomed to going outside only with a man, their mother or with an older son. “If you do not have that right now, then you do not go out,” Steel says.
So countless women remain cloistered indoors as their husbands search for work, waiting and hoping that they can soon afford to have food on the table again.
The piece is adapted from a story by Eden Nelson, an IMB writer based in the Middle East. You can find the full version here on CommissionStories.com.
Donations to Baptist Global Response help to feed refugees like these women. Click here to visit BGR’s donation page and help them survive the Syrian Conflict.