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Wednesday, November 26, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 4/15/2006

Domestic violence is worse overseas

BY ROSE RUSSELL

DOMESTIC violence is much too rampant in this country. Fortunately, the issue is vigorously addressed by agencies that help victims escape violent homes, take them to shelters, wade through the legal system, and get back on their feet.

However, the problem is also prevalent in foreign countries, including many Arab nations. In fact, a new study on domestic violence in Syria says nearly one in four married women surveyed has been beaten. One in four seems like way too few.

Women in Syria don t enjoy the same liberties as women do in this country. That s why it seems that more married women there have endured domestic violence.

And although domestic abuse and honor killings the murder of women believed to have engaged in illicit sex are said to be forbidden, there is reason to think that is not really the case.

For one thing, Syria s penal code gives light penalties to men convicted of honor killings. Article 548 allows a lenient penalty for men convicted of killing a sister, wife, or daughter found to engage in sexual intimacy with a man other than her husband. And Article 242 lets a man who merely suspects infidelity on the part of a female relative and who is convicted of murdering her get what amounts to a slap on the wrist. Equality is not in place in Syria.

Although the study, part of a report by the United Nations Development Fund for Women, isn t convincing, that it was done at all is important. Having some information about the issue is a step toward addressing it on an open and widespread basis. Before the study, no information about violence against Syrian women existed.

The issue of violence against women was kept silent here for many years, Shirin Shukri was quoted in the New York Times as saying.

The manager in the project at the UN regional office in Amman, Jordan, added, But we re making people in Syria aware that this is something that happens everywhere in Europe, in Asia, in the United States and this is opening up discussion.

About 1,900 families were surveyed by the General Union of Women, a quasi-government organization. The study is generating debate, which is necessary to combat the problem. Remaining silent about abuse perpetuates it.

The most surprising thing is that for the first time in Syria, a semi-governmental organization, the women s union, has admitted that there is a problem, said a supporter of women s rights, Maan Abdul Salam.

Now the issue is back in the public forum, as it had been previously forbidden to openly discuss it. Honor killings could only be discussed privately, but not in the media. Then, such murders could only be referred to as accidents.

Now these subjects are becoming much more open, said Bassam al-Kadi, a human rights advocate.

Talking openly about it will increase awareness. Sadly, the Syrians do not consider every violent act as violence. Hana Qaddoura, of the General Union of Women, said that depending on the their education and income, some see a woman who is being beaten as merely in a bad relationship. They don t see her as a victim of violence.

That isn t the case in America, where domestic violence remains a concern. More law enforcement agencies are training officers to deal with it, too.

In Syria, however, there are not many domestic violence shelters, and there is little awareness about the ones that do exist.

Something else keeps the issue under the rug: there is no network of support for abused Syrian women.

Syria has a long way to go before its approach even comes close to how America battles abuse. But for now, the Syrians are talking more about it, thanks to the study. The more it is discussed, the more likely it will be understood that it is a crime, and that convicted abusers deserve severe penalty.



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