In an apparent violation of women’s housing, land, and property rights, some Syrian women are compelled to relinquish their properties after experiencing psychological and physical threats.
Afraa, a woman in her 40s, is an employee at a government educational institution. She previously lived in her father’s two-storey house, surrounded by half a hectare of land in a village in the northern part of the Lattakia governorate.
In 2012, Afraa’s mother died, and her father, who is paralysed, has remained bed-bound since. Afraa was the only one of her siblings to care for her father throughout his illness until his recent death.
Before he passed, and as an expression of gratitude, Afraa’s father gave her the house and the surrounding land without her siblings knowing. He gave his other children a house he owned in Lattakia city and some agricultural land.
When Afraa’s siblings discovered her inheritance, they accused her of having manipulated their ill father to take over the family’s village home. Afraa’s older brother moved into the house against her will. He demanded that she relinquish her ownership of the house in exchange for being allowed the right to use the home for the remainder of her life. When Afraa refused, her brother allegedly locked her in a toolshed, prevented her from going to work, and confiscated her cell phone. Afraa says she was beaten during this time and often deprived of food.
Afraa’s unusual absence from work concerned her colleagues. They reportedly asked about her and visited the village, though her brother claimed not to know where she was. After a month, a colleague reported Afraa’s disappearance to the police and filed a complaint against her brother. The police raided the brother’s home in Lattakia city and the village home, where they found Afraa in the toolshed bearing signs of physical violence.
Afraa did not file a complaint against her brother, citing her fear of him. She subsequently relinquished her home ownership to him in exchange for lifetime rights of usufruct over the house.
Samia, a woman in her 40s, tells a similar story. She is from a rural part of the Hama governorate and is married to an army officer, with whom she has three daughters. In 2012, Samia’s husband registered the home in her name in case he died in the war and in order to prevent his brothers from becoming his heirs.
After Samia’s husband returned from his service, he married another woman in order to have a son and, therefore, a male heir. He requested that Samia transfer ownership of the house to him.
Samia’s husband tried to pressure her socially, sending a religious cleric to convince her of the husband’s supposed right to reclaim ownership of the house. According to Samia, her husband won the support of their community, as it is not uncommon in their part of Syria for husbands to hand over homes to their wives. Indeed, she says, many extended family members encouraged him to reclaim the house, marry a second woman, and have a son who could “bear his name”.
Samia tried persuading her husband to build an additional storey on the house so that he could live there with his new wife on the condition that the original house remain with her and the girls. The new addition would, however, violate the construction code.
He refused Samia’s solution and escalated the conflict by allegedly physically abusing Samia and her daughters. Samia became especially afraid because her husband kept guns, automatic weapons, and grenades in his room, she said. At one point, he locked her and the girls in a room and allegedly threatened to throw a grenade at them. When a lawyer handed over a sales contract for the house, Samia felt she had no choice but to sign it.