The World

Syrian Women Reflect on Rare Political Victory

Monday, June 7, 2010

This story was published with the help of Sarah Shourd's mother and colleagues while the author was imprisoned for over a year in Iran. Shourd was released in September 2010. Her two fellow hikers remain in prison

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Robust Set of Rights

Syrian women enjoy relatively robust rights in the context of other Arab countries. Women here make up 23 percent of Parliament, versus 2 percent in Lebanon. But provisions in the nationality code, personal status code and penal code all make women dependent on their husbands in various ways.

In one recent change to the penal code, Syria's President Bashar al-Assad on July 1 abolished Article 548 of the penal code, according to Human Rights Watch. That part of the law "waived punishment for a man found to have killed a female family member in a case 'provoked' by 'illegitimate sex acts,' as well as for a husband who killed his wife because of an extramarital affair."

Human rights groups and other activists portrayed the step as too small since it still doesn't punish honor crimes as harshly as other murders.

Syrians in the past year have continued to use Facebook as a way to battle for women's rights. One group, with more than 2,000 members, calls for the introduction of civil marriage in a country where religious courts rule wedlock and divorce.

"Every couple should have the right to get married in Syria, regardless of their race, religion or beliefs," the group's mission statement says.

Syria is a secular country according to its constitution, but it uses Islam as one of its main sources of legislation. That means that a Muslim man here can marry a Christian woman but a Christian man cannot marry a Muslim woman.

Some online users say the time for such laws is long gone.

"When as a people we reach a certain level of maturity, we are entitled to choose for ourselves, our partner, and our path in life," posted one user. "The law should have nothing to say regarding who you might want to give it a try with."

--Women's eNews staff members provided 2010 updates to this story.

Sarah Shourd was teaching English and living in Syria when she filed this article in July 2009. She has a 10-year activist history, advocating for women's rights and writing about her activism, from peace work in Chiapas to spreading awareness around the femicides in Juarez, Mexico. Her writing can be found on her blog, Thru Unfettered Eyes: Dispatches from Addis Ababa to Damascus: To learn more about Shourd and two men seized with her and held in Iran, go to


For more information:

Human Rights Watch's work on Syria:


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This is a wonderful victory! Congratulations to all who participated, and to the reporter, and to the mother of the reporter to see that this was published.
My empathy goes to Sarah Shourd, may she be free of imprisonment and further harassment for reporting.