Hana sits hugging her firstborn who is not even 60 days old. She bows down over her baby, as if seeking to envelop herself, speaking about her relationship with her husband, who perished inside the Syrian regime's prisons, without her knowing the reason for his arrest.
She hesitates to speak at first, but then begins to talk intermittently: "We fell in love the same time last year. We got married then almost one month and a half after that he was arrested. I found out that I was pregnant one month after his detention. I maintained hope that he would be released from prison, only to be handed over his death certificate by the security services, who said that he was buried in Najha [large cemetery grounds in the Damascus countryside, where unknown persons are usually buried]."
Hana stresses that she had always been afraid of her husband dying in prison, and that is exactly what happened. She wonders: "What I will say to my child—who did not get the chance to know his own father!—when he grows up? Will he have to only know his father by his image?"
She adds: "I was widowed in the prime of my youth; I became easy prey to all and sundry, who offer to marry me under the pretext of protecting me. I do not consent—not because I do not wish to get married again; but because I am afraid to become widowed again. We were all thus forced to seek refuge in Turkey, after having to leave our house in Zabadani in the Damascus countryside, which was bombed."
The story of Hana is far from being unique, as many other young women who became widows share similar stories; with the difference being having or not having children. Some of them accept to marry again to escape from society; to escape "people's words;" to continue raising their children, or to have children; but they all share a sense of "fear and sadness."
An Exorbitantly High Price
Syrian women pay a high price for the war in Syria. Many of them have lost their husbands; others were forced to leave their homes and their jobs; with some of them even killed.
The number of deaths of women at the hands of the Syrian regime forces exceeds five thousand women; whereas militant groups have killed circa 213 women, according to the Syrian Human Rights Network [SHRN].
According to the SHRN's latest statistics, the number of women who lost their spouses exceeds 17 thousand, with more than 15 thousand women whose spouses are forcibly missing persons.
According to the United Nations today, and after the great wave of killings in Syria and women's loss of their spouses; in one out of every three homes in Syria, a woman is the sole breadwinner.
A "Second Marriage"—Solution For Some
Some families found in re-marrying their daughters who lost their spouses, a means to protect them; especially that some of them have been widowed at a young age—despite fears of becoming widows anew.
Most families believe that a woman losing her spouse needs to be protected—particularly in the current reality of Syria, as well as the difficult living conditions and high prices. This prompts parents to remarry their widowed daughters who, in their view, are a burden to them, especially if she has children.
"My first marriage ended when I was 23 years, after my husband was killed by war because he was a volunteer popular committees. An older man aged 55 proposed to me, and my parents asked me to agree, as they are going through dire straits and for my protection, as 'you are a widow, and no single young man will propose to you,' they said;" Suhair describes her situation, after her husband was killed.
She says: "I deluded myself of being happy in my second marriage. But thruth was, that I was unable to forget my first husband—despite having gotten married to him in a traditional way. But that is my fate, and I'm convinced of it."
Women usually refuses to remarry after the death of their spouses, but the war has affected this situation, quite drastically with the loss of the main breadwinner and the difficult living conditions difficult. Still, some women refuse to remarry.
This is what happened with the 38-year-old mother of four, Nour, whose husband died in the Aleppo countryside. She says: "I am satisfied with God's kismet. My only concern now is raising my kids. I do not want to remarry because I will lose my children."
Turks Are Taking Advantage of Syrian Widows!
It seems that women who lost their spouses, are not only the victims of exploitation inside Syria, but also in neighboring countries. Some cases in which Turk men marry widowed Syrian women have been recorded, where the women gave birth to children, but the new child is registered under the Turkish man's first wife as being the mother.
The President of the Federation of Free Syrian Lawyers Liberal Ghazwan Qurunful, Comments: "Turk men resort to this method, as Turkish law prohibits polygamy."
Qurunful adds that "The marriage contract of any Syrian woman marrying an already previously married Turkish man is null and void," explaining that "a Turkish man marrying a second wife, is punishable—together with the second woman—under Article 237 of Turkish law by imprisonment for a period of 6 months." He points out that the Federation has not yet recorded any case of this kind, despite their existence.
He additionally points out most cases of Syrian women marriage to Turkish men can be found in the border areas; noting that the Federation will hold a series of seminars in these areas to educate women on the dangers of the marriage to married Turk men.
What About the Supporting Organizations and Associations?
Thousands of women who lost their spouses as a result of the war in Syria, were forcibly turned into street vendors—both at home and in their various countries of asylum—so as to provide the minimum living requirements to their children.
Umm Walid, one of the ladies forced to sit on the roadside with some bottles of water and tissue boxes on the Yusuf Pasha Street in Istanbul, tells Rozana: "I requested the assistance of associations... What I get is not enough for me and my five children."
Umm Walid continues "What we get is food... Living is not only food; there are other things that one should provide. That is why I found myself forced to sell water and tissues on the streets." She concludes: "This work and nothing to be ashamed of. I force no one to buy, or ask for anyone's compassion."
Social worker Souheir Osman comments on the topic of widowed Syrian women and the figures that were published around them, saying, "These figures are only approximate. The disaster inside Syria is much larger in fact, with widowhood and the number of children killed in Syria expected to increase."
She points to the lack of coordination between relief organizations, indicating that "money and aid do not reach the intended recipients, and there is no dedicated assistance for widows to offer them the help they need."