The Impact of Enforced disappearance on victim's female Family members

Laws Inequality toward female Family members

According to the 2006 International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, outlines both the disappeared and their family members as victims of enforced disappearances.

As in most conflicts around the world, the Syrian women comprise a minority among the disappeared but undergo excruciating economic, social, and psychological struggles and disadvantages due to the disappearance of their male family members. Mothers, spouses, and daughters of whom forcibly disappeared are oftentimes left to face various challenges coupled with pre-existing gendered laws and social norms.  Yet, their experiences are often disregarded or marginalized at any political discussions on missing persons and detainees.

Zeina Idilby Gender Equity and Women rights Program manger at Kesh Malek Organization explains that the Syrian social and legal transcripts encompass patriarchal pre-determined cultural norms, as well as socioeconomic conditionality that tends to place more significant perils of gendered harms on women than men in case of their disappearance.

This harm is reflected in Syria’s exclusionary and prejudiced laws, uniquely in regard to marriage, inheritance and property rights, and sexual crimes which exacerbate and hollow a systematic, institutionalized inequality.

“The ambiguous status of the disappeared has usually abandoned women, leaving them outside the support schemes parameters that were commonly available for other families in the Syrian laws,”

Zeina Idilby – Gender Equity and Women rights Program manger at Kesh Malek Organization.

Unfair Laws

The Syrian Property ownership laws and the dilemmas it puts women under at the absence of the male, whether a father, brother or spouse. She explains that this inequality is a highly critical issue to address, as the men in the family predominantly own property, due to state regulations and the embedded Islamic disciplines.

“Even if they could gain and afford legal assistance, their claim on their estate is at a disadvantage in the absence of their spouses,… Women are even exposed to lose their rights over their properties to the state or the husband’s family members because their -legal guardian- is absent”

Zeina Idilby – Gender Equity and Women rights Program manger at Kesh Malek Organization.

On the same token, as fathers are the primary guardian of children according to Syrian personal status law, women have no legal authority over their children’s custody. Huda Sarjawe, an advocate based in north Syria explains custody to become the right the father’s family.

Mothers become reliant on their male partners’ consent to be able to travel with or do administrative work for their children.

“Without the paper that she luckily obtained, she would not have been able to move or travel outside the country”, she adds.

Women have to obtain a birth certificate and custody so that they can freely take out their children with them. This makes them vulnerable to the father’s family’s harassment or arguments over the custody papers attainment.

Salwa, who is speaking under the condition of anonymity, a 31 years old wife of Ahmad who disappeared in Hama in 2014, explains that she had undergone a tedious process before he managed to get custody paper from the father’s family.

“I spent more than four months of back and forth with the family to obtain the needed paper before I flee the country,” 

The Syrian patriarchal laws stream gender-based discrimination against women and give men inferior power over women in all of their life’s aspects,

Salwa – a 31 years old wife of Ahmad who disappeared in Hama in 2014

Legal Loopholes

Idilby explains that if their male inferior is missing, their lives would be turned into a legal dilemma. This subordination makes them vulnerable to another male member of the family who is more likely to exploit their needs.

“If the spouses did not sign such papers before their disappearance take place, the guardianship is automatically transferred to the uncles and male in-laws,”

The legal impact means that they cannot get engaged or remarry, inherit, or travel with their children from a place to another. They would require either the consent of the husband or proof of his death to which she cannot do,

Zeina Idilby – Gender Equity and Women rights Program manger at Kesh Malek Organization.

This puts women in high risks of and difficulties to move with children to a safer country, let alone vulnerable to get blackmailed or deprived of their children by their in-laws at times of disagreement.

The examination of the gendered repercussions of enforced disappearance is crucial to explore the changes in gender roles, relations, and identities brought about by the conflict

Zeina Idilby – Gender Equity and Women rights Program manger at Kesh Malek Organization.

Increasing responsibilities

While the compelling challenges that women endure had significantly surged as their role has shifted, the patriarchal social framework continues to be the same and increased in some societies and sectors across the Syrian communities who have been ruled by various authoritarian, exclusionary hegemonic powers.

Asma Ali, a gender and women rights activist from Idlib, said that women who are left behind experience an increased workload, liabilities, and vulnerability, though without protection from exploitation. 

“Because of the traditional gender roles in Syrian society, they are more likely to fall into poverty, depression, and isolation,” she said,

The activist highlights that the gendered effects of disappearance on Syrian families make a transformative change to the disappeared person families’ life. If the primary supporter of the family has gone missing, women would find themselves without income for their families and therefore are more vulnerable. 

What is more overwhelming is, during the raved war, women have to go through intense psychological pressure. 

The dilemma arises as many Syrian women do not have any proof of the arrest nor death and therefore remain in an open-ended legal quandary.

This pressure executes a disproportionate cross-mental and physical deterioration on women to continue being the caregiver to the children while living through despair, anxiety, and hopelessness, 

Asma Ali, a gender and women rights activist from Idlib

Subsequently, Idilby explains that gender-based discrimination in laws and policies hinders the full realization of the human rights of women and limits their autonomy and participation in aspects of public and political life. 

The socio-economic impact of disappearances is profoundly tangible and, in turn, renders women and their children more exposed to exploitation and social marginalization,

Zeina Idilby – Gender Equity and Women rights Program manger at Kesh Malek Organization.

Enforced disappearance of female capacity building

The disappeared and detained female relatives are taking on new obligations and roles in their families as a financial provider, and more importantly, as decision-makers in the affairs of their dependants.

Increased educational opportunities can allow female relatives to survive with their families and fight for their relative’s freedom, as well as to increase their self-reliance and confidence. 

“Work-hunting workshops and training for female relatives can expand the number of jobs they can pursue, as much as access to higher education can be for those with adequate former formal training,” said Kayyali, 

Although the toll enforced disappearance experience takes on them and their families are unimaginable; still, with constructive targeted capacity building, training provision, women are and can be more resilient agents of change and not only victims.

Kayyali makes the assertion that both literacy and educational capacity building opportunities are identified by the female relatives as a fundamental factor to navigate their responsibilities.

Furthermore, to bring those females to be on the civil society leadership trajectory of advocacy for their loved ones, there is a compelling need to integrate them into the executive level of leadership.

“This will put the right person in the right position, at the negotiation table,” 

“As a result, pressurizing the decision-maker who will be bombarded by those women with enforced disappearance cases and evidence,” she adds.