Many women in Syria suffer from restrictions on their housing, land, and property rights, often through unwritten conditions. Women are frequently granted real estate properties in return for meeting certain social conditions, which, if breached, cause them to lose their rights.
Yasmeen is from the town of Kafr Batna in the Rural Damascus governorate and got married when she was 13 years old. Her father imposed a condition on her husband-to-be, Bassam, that she obtain an apartment guaranteeing her right to housing. Bassam documented ownership of a 100-square-metre apartment in a family building through a pro forma sales contract that he registered with the notary. However, that sale was never officially recorded in the Land Registry.
In 2012, as opposition forces took control of East Ghouta and as regime forces unleashed heavy airstrikes and artillery fire on the area, Yasmeen and her husband agreed that he would stay home while she moved with the children to Jaramana, which was under regime control. At the time, the couple had a daughter and a son who suffered from medical problems and required intensive care.
Yasmeen moved with the children to Jaramana, where she lived in a rental home paid for by Bassam. Meanwhile, she learned basket weaving and recycling household goods, eventually finding work in these fields and in housecleaning. With time, the couple’s physical separation led to the decline of their relationship. Four years after Yasmeen had moved, Bassam stopped sending money. She alone would be in charge of paying the rent, daily living expenses, and the medical costs for her son. During this time she also acquired middle and secondary school certificates, which she was not able to obtain as a child bride.
When regime forces recaptured East Ghouta in 2018, Yasmeen and Bassam were unable to restore their relationship. She brought up the idea of divorce, as well as her right to sell the apartment she ostensibly owned, which would help her establish her own work project. Bassam refused, telling her that her right to the apartment was conditional on her remaining his wife. Yasmeen nevertheless went through with the divorce and tried contacting an influential resident in the area to help her sell the apartment. However, the pro forma sales contract that had been made with the notary remained in Bassam’s possession, while he affirmed his ownership of the apartment.
Family mediators failed to solve the dispute, and Yasmeen refused any solution that would involve her returning to her husband or being deprived of her right to the apartment. In the end, she preferred to get divorced and lose her right to the property.
On the other hand, Najwa is an unmarried teacher in her 40s from the Lattakia governorate countryside with many brothers. Najwa’s father owns a three-storey building and distributed the apartments in it to his sons while giving her nothing. In the meantime, Najwa has been living in a semi-detached studio in an apartment registered under the name of one of her brothers who lives with his family in a separate home. The situation remained acceptable until Najwa’s mother died and she inherited a 300-square-metre plot of land. However, Najwa’s brother took hold of the land, reasoning that allowing Najwa to live in his apartment meant he had the right to take her share without paying her for it. This became the condition for Najwa’s housing. She would have to give up her share of the land she had inherited in exchange for remaining in the studio, albeit without being able to formally register her right of usufruct for the lodging.
When Najwa refused the arrangement, she was physically beaten more than once. The last time, her brother evicted her from the studio and removed her belongings. Najwa fled the coastal region and moved to another city, still refusing to give up her share of the inheritance despite having lost the right to live in her brother’s studio.