Syrian women take up bread-winner role as war lingers on
Rena Hanif, a mother of two, has been forced to take up the bread-winner role for her family after her husband was picked up by the Syrian regime.
Hanif lives in Syria's northwestern city of Azaz where she struggles to provide a bright future for her children.
“I never heard anything from him after they took him. No news. It has been eight years,” she told Anadolu Agency.
The conflict in Syria which has entered its ninth year continues to increase the burden of Syrian women with a fundamental shift in their traditional gender roles.
The husbands, fathers and brothers of thousands of these women have either been killed, captured or gone missing since the start of conflict in 2011.
Before the war Hanif would stay at home, looking after her children, while her husband went to work as a mechanic.
The exact number of civilians detained in Assad regime prisons is unknown. However, in its March report, the Syrian Human Rights Network (SNHR) said that more than 127,000 people – mainly men – have been held in Bashar al-Assad regime jails, where more than 13,000 people have died due to torture.
Women bear brunt of war
“In Syria, a woman was a woman before the revolution [Arab Spring uprising in 2011], then she became a man. Unlike those who have husbands to share their burden with, widows are left alone; they have to be a mother and father," 30-year-old Hanif said.
Speaking about her struggles, she says, her main goal is to provide for her children. They are her lifeline.
She says single-parenting is a tough job and she is able to spend only one day a week with her children.
“In the bid to become mother and father for them, I spend lesser time with them,” she adds, referring to her work-related responsibilities.
Her 11-year-old son wants to become an engineer; her 10-year-old daughter wants to be a teacher.
She managed to open a children's clothing shop in March with the support of Turkish NGO Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) in Azaz.
The foundation provides vocational training and financial assistance to Syrian women to help them re-integrate into society.
Toll on mental health
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, psychologist Humeyra Kutluoglu Karayel who works with Syrian women, said that these kinds of opportunities can also be “a form of therapy for their psychological problems”.
“The pleasure of being able to provide for their family, children can operate like a therapy for those women,” she said.
“Providing for their children and supporting their livelihoods also increases their self-confidence,” she added.
Karayel, who is also a researcher at the Istanbul-based Humanitarian and Social Research Center (INSAMER), said not all women are able to cope up with this life-changing event.
“[This can lead] to different psychological problems such as burnout syndrome, depression, anxiety, stress disorder and many more,” she added.
Therefore, she said, giving them respectable means to earn a livelihood is important.
Life before war
Recounting her life before the war, Hanif said she prays for immediate peace in the country.
“If I have to compare, my life before was more beautiful. At least we were safe,” she said.
Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011, when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on protests with unexpected ferocity.
Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and millions others displaced, according to the UN.
“This revolution [war] has opened up such wounds in our hearts, they will bleed until we die,” she said with tears in her eyes.