The struggle of Nibal, a 34-year-old woman, did not come to an end following her divorce four and a half years ago in Tartus. Presently residing in her parents' home with her five-year-old daughter, her post-divorce life has engendered fresh wounds and a distinctive brand of suffering.
“It's enough that we host you and your daughter,” a phrase that reverberates profoundly within Nibal; as she has been repeatedly hearing it from her mother since her divorce.
While Nibal holds a government position, her income falls short of providing for her daughter's needs and renting accommodation due to a monthly salary of 125,000 Syrian Pounds (equivalent to approximately 14 dollars) that proves insufficient.
The plight is amplified for divorced Syrian women, especially those with children, amidst a challenging economic climate and a mismatch between salaries and the cost of living. The median salary hovers around 150,000 Syrian Pounds (16 dollars).
According to the "Qasioun Index for Cost of Living," the average expenses for a family of five exceeded 5.6 million Syrian Pounds by the end of the first quarter this year. Meanwhile, the minimum subsistence level reached 3.5 million Pounds, despite a minimum wage of 92,970 Syrian Pounds.
Nibal shares with Rozana that her infant daughter was just a few months old when their separation took place after a marriage of fewer than two years. She recalls with a sense of pain: “ I endured constant mistreatment during that time; I had to resort to my parents' house as my sole refuge”.
Alimony Insufficient for Basic Necessities
Nibal's ex-husband contributes a monthly alimony of merely 7,000 Syrian Pounds for their daughter: “The sum that falls short even of covering the cost of bread”. She adds: "I thought about seeking a lawyer to file a case against my ex-husband, to secure a larger alimony. However, the lawyer informed me that the lawsuit costs 300,000 pounds and even if successful, the alimony won't exceed 10,000 pounds. So, I changed my mind".
To support her daughter, Nibal spares no effort in pursuing various side jobs. Despite her commitment, the annual fee for her daughter's kindergarten surpasses one and a half million Pounds (around 166 dollars). Unfortunately, her salary is 125,000 Pounds which barely stretches to equal 14 dollars.
Living in the countryside, Nibal's employment options are limited to seasonal agricultural work, such as olive and citrus harvesting.
Comparable to Nibal, numerous Syrian women who have experienced divorce find themselves solo parenting their children and returning to their parents' homes. Some families perceive the mother and her children as burdens, advocating that the husband should bear responsibility for their upbringing.
In May of the preceding year, Judge Khaled Jindiya, the third Sharia judge in Damascus, unveiled escalating divorce rates in the capital city. He disclosed that 30,000 marriages and 10,000 divorces were documented in Damascus during 2020. This issue is exacerbated within the expatriate community.
According to Judge Khaled Jindiya, the upsurge in divorce rates can be attributed to the proliferating poverty levels that adversely affect living standards. This, in turn, catalyzes problems between spouses. Factors such as intellectual disparities and lack of mutual understanding compound these challenges.
Established a Family, Then Abandoned me
The experience of Ilham, a 37-year-old woman, epitomizes the plight of divorced women sustaining their children in Syria. She is a mother of two daughters, aged 9 and 7, and she was divorced due to her inability to conceive due to health issues. Notably, her husband desired a male heir.
In conversation with Rozana, Ilham, a homemaker, told us: "My husband frankly told me that he can't afford two households and it's his right to have a male child who carries his name. We divorced three years ago, and now I live with my parents."
The thirty-something woman says: “Life here is a living hell in every sense of the word”, she adds: “I work as a maid in my family's home. My brother's wife, who lives with us with her child, spares no effort in humiliating me. When I turn to my father, he tells me that the fault is mine and I must endure. After all, the house belongs to my brother and his wife; it's not mine since I'm a girl and I have no right to inherit, according to the laws of our sect”.
Ilham's ex-husband provides 10,000 Pounds per month as alimony for their daughters, a sum that scarcely exceeds a dollar. This amount is inadequate to face persistent inflation. Her husband, now patronizing a new family, resists increasing this stipend, claiming that his income is just sufficient.
"He started a new family leaving me alone with my daughters suffer the loss of dignity, poverty, and sometimes even hunger," said Ilham.
Ilham dedicates all her time to household work and any available job to support her daughters and make ends meet. Regrettably, she admits: "I forgot I am a woman, and I can't recall the last time I felt feminine or even bought clothes for myself."
"The State's Share in Our Livelihood"
Ahmed (42 years old) from Damascus tends to attribute his struggles to the prevailing economic conditions, inadequate wages, and salaries. He struggles to provide sufficient alimony for his two children who reside with their mother in her family's home since their divorce two years ago.
Ahmed holds a government position and engages in additional employment as an afternoon driver. However, his income barely covers his family's needs, including his wife and nursing infant. He attempts to save a portion of his earnings to send to his ex-wife and children, but even in optimal conditions, this amount doesn't exceed 100,000 Pounds.
Despite his awareness that this sum is insufficient, Ahmed is unable to send more due to his financial limitations. He points a finger at the government, commenting: "The state shares in our livelihoods and the livelihoods of our children. How can I send more to them when over half of the car's income is consumed by fuel, taxes, and repairs?"
Legal Safeguards Fall Short for Children and Women
The lawmakers in Syria have struggled to formulate laws that adequately protect the rights of women and their children following divorce. Many human rights advocates consider the Personal Status Law insufficient and call for substantial amendments to ensure women receive their full rights.
Lawyer Lubna (45 years old) from Tartus succinctly encapsulates the issue in the context of alimony. She contends that the heart of the problem lies in the insufficient wages and salaries, placing those impacted in a precarious situation and hindering any possible escalation of alimony amounts.
Lubna explains: "How can the authorities adjust the alimony to 500,000 Pounds when they recognize that the salaries they provide don't exceed 100,000? Unfortunately, women and children bear the consequences."
A revision to the Personal Status Law was issued in February 2019; however, Lubna believes this revision remains limited in protecting women's and their children's rights. The revised law does not compel husbands to secure housing for the family or offer alimony that adequately supports the children's livelihoods. Instead, the sum remains symbolic, ranging between 5,000 and 150,000 Pounds if the wife proves the husband's substantial monthly income.
Lubna elaborates that judges often utilize the government salary as a gauge for determining the alimony amount.
She adds, "Proving a husband's income is extremely challenging, if not impossible, unless he is, for instance, a merchant".
"In the event that a woman demonstrates her husband's ownership of properties or other assets, the court dismisses this evidence. The court insists on proving a high income, rather than ownership of assets. This condition is exceptionally perplexing, and the rationale behind its formulation remains unknown", Lubna clarifies.
The lawyer reveals a significant rise in divorce cases, noting that she receives approximately 20 divorce cases each month. She further reveals that most divorce cases she handles result in a monthly child alimony not exceeding 10,000 Syrian Pounds.
The active women's rights advocate advises women to carefully consider the matter and include specific terms in the marriage contract. She urges women to stipulate the alimony amount that the husband must pay for each child in the event of future divorce. "This ensures their rights and the rights of their children".
According to Syrian law, women are not entitled to claim any alimony after divorce, nor any properties or compensation. The only right available to them is receiving their dowry and a modest monthly alimony for their children.