This report was drafted by a Country of Origin Information (COI) specialist from the Finnish Immigration Service (FIS), as referred to in the Acknowledgements section.
The purpose of this report is to analyse the situation of women in Syria, focusing mainly on the general situation of women in the country while also paying special attention to area-specific features in those parts of Syria under the control of non-state armed groups, information relevant for international protection status determination, including refugee status and subsidiary protection, and in particular to inform the EASO country guidance development on Syria.
The information gathered is a result of research using public, specialised paper-based and electronic sources until 18 November 2019. Some additional information was added during the finalisation of this report in response to feedback received during the quality control process, until 10 January 2020.
For the Terms of Reference (ToR) of this report, EASO provided input to the Finnish Immigration Service, based on discussions held with COI experts and senior policy experts from EU+ countries within the framework of a Country Guidance development on Syria. The Finnish Immigration Service defined its ToR taking into account this input.
The ToR can be found in the annex of this report.
The report is based on information from UN reports, reports from human rights organisations, academic publications and news articles, relevant when analysing the situation of women in Syria.
The report relies to a large extent on two United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA) reports: Voices from Syria 2018 and Voices from Syria 2019. These reports contain governorate-level information on the situation of women and girls in Syria and are based on both quantitative and qualitative data from a variety of sources (involving focus group discussions, informant interviews, etc.).
Other seminal sources include the special report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (CoI) focusing on sexual and gender-based violence in Syria published by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) on 8 March 2018, and the most recent report by the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) from 25 November 2019, covering the situation of women in the country.
While assessing the reported violations against women, it is crucial to recognise that possibilities to gather information about these violations are limited. The UNPFA report of March 2019 noted, with regard to data limitations, that sexual and gender-based violence especially is globally underreported and rarely discussed openly in any society, even when the society in question is experiencing a time of peace and normalcy. The report further noted that, during ‘emergency situations’, different types of gender-based violence are ‘widely understood’ to occur and in a significantly aggravated form whether or not data about these violations is available. Factors limiting the availability of data include, inter alia, the fear of stigma and retaliation and the simple lack of (adequate) information. The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) report of November 2016 listed more specific factors such as the intimidation and repression of activists by Government forces and associated militias, social and psychological pressure and the fear of additional harassment experienced by former detainees, and the denial of access to the CoI and other independent human rights observers, affecting the gathering of information in Syria.
Sources with a specific focus on the situation of women and girls in Syrian society do not generally differentiate between areas controlled by the Government of Syria and those parts of the country still controlled (at least to some extent) by non-state armed groups. It is possible to base this general, country-wide approach on the observation that both the violations against women and girls and the social and cultural factors shaping their lives are mostly similar in different parts of Syria. However, sources often pay special attention to certain area-specific factors such as the effect of repressive social norms imposed by Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and other radical groups in north-west Syria or the military recruitment of women in the Kurdish-dominated north-east.