Women often face discrimination regarding their housing, land, and property rights when they marry men from other religions or sects. This discrimination can sometimes mean forced detention, fabricated charges, and falsified evidence.
This happened to Marwa, an engineer working with a large construction company before the Syrian uprising in 2011. She is from one of Daraa’s largest, most influential, and wealthiest Sunni families. To avoid rejection from her family, Marwa did not tell them about her marriage to an Alawite classmate.
Marwa has five sisters and two brothers, who all received a university education. Their father died 15 years ago, and despite many heirs, Marwa received a large share of land and other properties.
Marwa and her husband supported the 2011 uprising and were active in humanitarian relief work. As a result, Marwa and her husband were arrested. Marwa was detained for two months until her family managed to secure her release by paying a hefty bribe to a high-level security official. However, her husband remained in detention for six months and was immediately conscripted for compulsory military service.
After her release, Marwa’s family discovered that she was secretly married, marking the beginning of her ordeal. To her family, not only had she committed the unforgivable decision of having married an Alawite, but she had also taken part in revolutionary activities, which they did not see as appropriate for women. The family supported the uprising but saw political activism as a male activity. Political activism in Syria has long carried significant risks, not least of which is political detention and all the physical abuse that entails, including sexual violence, which may, in turn, cause social stigma for female survivors.
After discovering her marriage, Marwa’s family locked her in an old barn they previously used for livestock in their summer home. However, the family did not stand unified against her. Marwa’s mother and older brother sided against her, while her sisters and younger brother advocated on her behalf. Still, the mother and older brother’s stance won out.
After 20 days in the barn, Marwa’s brother offered her a deal that he saw as a way to cleanse her of her shame. He would release her in exchange for marrying a man he deemed appropriate and relinquishing all her properties. He threatened to keep her locked in the barn for the remainder of her life if she refused and dispose of her properties how he deemed fit, whether she liked it or not.
Marwa was coerced into accepting the offer, including relinquishing her properties via a sales and purchase contract with her brother. She also married a man chosen by her brother. The marriage was conducted under a customary marriage contract and was not formally registered with the Personal Status Directorate.
After living in different parts of the Daraa governorate and fleeing various battles between opposition and regime forces, Marwa and her husband fled again to Jordan and then to Europe. After obtaining residency there, Marwa broke up with her husband but could not regain her properties.
A similar story happened to Abir, an Alawite woman from Lattakia governorate who married a Sunni man while studying at the University of Aleppo. Her family rejected the marriage. Pressured by her husband’s conservative family, she began wearing the hijab, increasing her parents’ negative stance towards the union. Her family consequently shunned her.
Nevertheless, Abir finished her studies and had three children.
During the fighting in Aleppo, Abir’s husband was killed by a shell, and bombs destroyed their home. She decided to return to Lattakia and start over and reach out to her family for support. However, her family refused to provide any help.
Abeer’s father had not distributed his properties to his children before his death, so according to the Personal Status Law, Abir should receive an inheritance alongside her sisters. The inheritance was extensive and included a house, an ocean villa, and agricultural land in their village, all of which remained in her father’s name without having conducted a legal inheritance inventory. Abir’s family refused to let her receive any share because she had married a man from a different sect.
When Abir filed a lawsuit to proceed with an inheritance inventory, the family launched a campaign to tarnish her reputation, accusing her of mental illness and even forging her signature on a sales contract for her share. Finally, when Abir did not relent, they wrote a false security report against her son, now a young man, which led to a one-month detainment. The unlawful imprisonment of her son led Abir to withdraw her lawsuit and waive her rights.