Although the government has ostensibly opened the way for displaced residents to return to the southern Damascus city of Al-Hajjar Al-Aswad, a slew of challenges continue to prevent women, in particular, from returning home.
Among them is Umm Muhammad, a displaced woman from Al-Hajjar Al-Aswad. Regime forces killed her husband during the period of opposition control over the city between 2013 and 2018. Through all the means available to her, she has tried to return to her home. However, her repeated requests to obtain the security approval necessary for returning have all been rejected on account of her late husband’s opposition activities.
Umm Muhammad told The Syria Report that she has never personally taken part in any opposition-related activities and that the security apparatus has no evidence of her alleged participation. Still, without a security approval she cannot return to the only home she owns, which has forced her to continue paying rent elsewhere.
On top of being barred from returning home by the security apparatus, Umm Muhammad also struggles to make ends meet after losing her husband, the family’s sole breadwinner. She said that even if she were permitted to return some day, “how will I secure the costs to repair my home when I currently depend on humanitarian assistance to meet my daily needs?”
Rudaina, a lawyer, told The Syria Report that most women from Al-Hajjar Al-Aswad are also facing legal issues related to proving their property ownership. The Sharia Court in Al-Hajjar Al-Aswad, which was in charge of handling legal inheritances, was burnt down in 2013. Consequently, everything, including legal documents, inside the court was destroyed. Many women are therefore unable to obtain their legal inheritances to prove their right to inherit after the death, killing, or imprisonment of their male family members in whose names the properties are registered.
Some women are unable to prove their property ownership because they were transferred property, yet the transaction was not legally registered. Fathia is one such resident. She told The Syria Report that her father transferred a property in Al-Hajjar Al-Aswad to her, but that he had not formally completed the registration process. According to Fathia, failure to complete such official transactions is at times intended to keep the right of disposal of a property in the hands of its original, predominantly male owner – a form of disguised, gendered guardianship. In Fathia’s case, her father is unable to complete the legal process of transfer because he is currently living as a refugee outside Syria.
In general, living conditions in Al-Hajjar Al-Aswad present particular challenges for women. Women returnees have found that they feel unsafe for numerous reasons, including the almost continuous electricity blackouts in the war-devastated area. Walking outside is also unsafe because of remaining rubble and unexploded ordnance, as well as armed militia members who patrol the area and are not subject to controls on their behaviour.