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Post civil war Syria challenged by profound gender imbalance

Syrians women carry children along the Turkish border on 30 December 2018 [DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images]
Syrians women carry children along the Turkish border on 30 December 2018 [DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images]

Syria is undergoing a profound shift in the country’s gender role, one that is likely to shape the country’s society in dramatic fashion for the foreseeable future.

The eight-year civil war has decimated Syria’s social fabric.  Shredded by violence, the Syrian people are slowly coming out of the war with an extreme gender imbalance.

According to a report in the Financial Times the Syrian government’s military campaign and sweeping conscription efforts have created a demographic crisis. Of the nearly 500,000 people killed during the war, some 80 per cent were men.

Underscoring the dramatic change, figures cited in the Syrian Centre for Policy Research (SCPR) found that male life expectancy fell from 70 years in 2010 to 48 by 2015. Men aged 15-24 are said to have experienced the sharpest decline in life expectancy.

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The demographic imbalance is further compounded by the millions of other young men that have sought refuge in neighbouring countries and Europe, fearing conscription or retribution if they return to Syria. The report described the huge social and economic implications of the gender imbalance. Women are now said to be the primary breadwinner and carer in about one-third of Syrian households, according to the UN women’s agency.

The report said the absence of men had changed the labour force dramatically. Before the civil war broke out in 2011, women’s participation was typical of a Conservative country. Just one-fifth of women, according to the World Economic Forum, worked outside the home.

An affected man receives a medical treatment after Assad regime forces conduct allegedly poisonous gas attack on Sakba and Hammuriye districts of Eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria on 7 March, 2018 [Dia Al Din Samout/Anadolu Agency]

A Syrian man receives medical treatment after the Assad regime conducted a poisonous gas attack in Eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria on 7 March, 2018 [Dia Al Din Samout/Anadolu Agency]

While the war restricted employment for everyone, including women, new employment opportunities appearing as the conflict winds down, has seen increasing numbers of women taking up positions traditionally taken up by men. The report found that the rate of female entrepreneurship went up from four per cent in 2009 to 22 per cent in 2017.

With men in short supply, many employers now have no option but to hire women. Describing the new situation Rima Kadiry, Syria’s minister for labour and social affairs, was quoted saying: “Surely there is a gender imbalance in the Syrian labour market, the percentage of women is higher than the percentage of men.”

The report described the impact of the gender imbalance on society. Finding suitors for marriage was a major problem. One person mentioned in the report said that there were ten women for every man; a situation that has forced some women to look outside the country for potential partners.

Women in their 50s are taking up jobs and careers for the first time in their lives after being displaced by the war. Some were forced to work because pensions were insufficient in meeting basic needs. Younger women are using family savings to set up businesses that would normally be considered un-feminine for a Cconservative country.

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