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Working women in Syria’s Damascus face sexual harassment, exploitation

DAMASCUS, Syria (North Press) – Girls in Damascus, some of whom are still university students, are subjected to harassment and exploitation in the workplace after they had to enter the labor market early due to the deteriorating living conditions of their families.

In Syrian societies, most women used to spend most of their time on domestic work, while female students wait to finish their studies to get a job in formal institutions.

  2020witnessed multiple setbacks for the Syrian economy, starting with the collapse of the Syrian pound (SYP) to an exchange rate of nearly 3,000 SYP against the US dollar, the suspension of many production plants, prices hikes, and the implementation of the US Caesar Act in mid-June.

The implementation of the sanctions was followed by suffocating crises due to the lack of fuel, especially diesel and petrol, in addition to the ongoing bread crisis and increased hours of power cuts.

This economic crisis in government-held areas contributed to the further deterioration of the already low standard of living after a decade of war, also forced girls to engage in various jobs and accept unsuitable working conditions.

However, these females face great challenges during their search or start of work in the absence of guarantees and laws that protect their rights.

College expenses

Some families were unable secure their needs, so most family members are forced to search for new income sources, from students to the elderly.

Souha Saif, a university student who works in a dentist’s clinic in Damascus, said that due to the deteriorating living conditions of her family, she was forced to look for a job, and with the help of her friends, she was able to find work in the clinic.

The student was about to drop out of her studies due to her family’s living condition and her inability to afford her studies.

Despite long work hours, Saif believes that her job is good compared to that of her friend, who accepted working for low wages since employers take advantage of girls’ desperate need to find work to pay them less.

Employers prefer to employ females, because they accept work with low salaries without rights and guarantees.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock said that the prices of goods in Syria have increased, and even subsidized necessities such as bread have doubled in price, while the price of diesel fuel has more than doubled since last September.

Sexual favors

Batoul al-Ayed (a pseudonym), a student at the Faculty of Science at the University of Damascus, said that her employer required that she provide sexual services in order for her to be hired.

Al-Ayed said that she went to a computer shop that had announced its need for employees, but the employer told her that his only condition for hiring her “is to go out with him to a room with a bed.”

The deteriorating living conditions prompted Isra Fateh, a resident of Damascus, to work in a sewing plant to help her two brothers.

She said that her brothers can’t provide their family’s needs.

Fateh previously worked in a sewing workshop, but she was harassed by the owner of the workshop, which led her to leave work.  “His looks were strange, and he tried several times to touch my hand, so I had to quit…I justified it to my family at the time by saying that the salary was low, because if they knew the real reason, they would prevent me from working again.”

No sons or brothers

Ahmed Barnieh (a pseudonym), a lawyer in Damascus, said that many girls are subjected to sexual harassment by employers, “especially girls who didn’t have brothers or fathers, who may have a social reaction to an assault on members of their families,” he said.

He mentioned that some employers were trying, target vulnerable women by learning about them and their families to ensure that they would not be held accountable for sexual harassment or assault.

He pointed out that “unfortunately, the majority of victims of sexual harassment and assaults do not report what happened to them because of social customs and traditions.”

Human rights and UN reports indicate that women who manage to escape violence often find their path to justice blocked by victim-blaming.

However, Barnieh also said, “There are others who continue to work despite being harassed because of their urgent need to work.”

Reporting by Wahid al-Atar

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