"In Syria, because of the family and social pressures, I submitted to him. But here [in a Lebanon-based refugee camp supervised by international humanitarian groups], the circumstances we've passed through made me stronger. Here, I feel independent."
"He was behaving like he was God, controlling my life. And when I took this decision, that's the first point I started feeling independent from him."
Samar Hijazi, Bekaa Valley village
"This is against God's will."
"If you divorce, you'll have problems with your children. God will be against you. God won't bless you. Will you reconsider?"
Sunni Sharia court judge
Samar Hijazi was firm in responding with a resounding "no". And all it took was the judge's pronouncement that she was summarily divorced to free her from a 33-year marriage. She was all of twelve years old when she was married to a man who would domineeringly control every aspect of her life for the following 33 years. Immediately upon her marriage she gave birth in swift succession to six children. Just as she was under her husband's thumb, so were the children.
She is now 45 years of age, and for the first time since age twelve responsible for herself. Her home is now a tidy, tiny prefabricated structure within a dusty refugee camp where she has a small bed along one wall, her clothing and suitcases neatly placed on shelves, and little else. But it's her home and hers alone, and it is where she is confident and comfortable. She now has grandchildren of her own, and she hopes their lives will be far different than her own.
While the Syrian conflict has created millions of displaced Sunni Syrians within the country, an estimated seven million more have become refugees finding shelter outside Syria. They chose to leave Syria because they could no longer live under threatening intimidation, regime bombing and the fear that the next barrel bomb or chemical bomb attack would end their lives and those of their families. This woman insisted that her family leave their home in a suburb of Damascus.
She had mustered enough strength of purpose and conviction to feel that death awaited her and her family, remaining in Syria. She had lived for 33 years under the brutal domination of her husband who beat her and her children and never would give her permission to exit their home if he did not accompany her. Early in the marriage she had tried to escape by running back to her parents. Who then turned her back over to her husband.
The war that created such a massive upheaval that one-half of the entire Syrian population became homeless -- and Europe was invaded by masses of Syrians desperate, along with migrants from Libya and North Africa, hoping to escape poverty, sectarian conflicts and degraded life conditions of oppression that offered no economic stability -- created as well the opportunity for this woman and others like her, influenced by the support given them by humanitarian agency workers to shed their traditional custom of submitting to male coersion.
The degree of personal autonomy they have gained since leaving Syria as a matter of existential duress has had the effect of increasing their quality of life. Not in the area of personal possessions, certainly, but in personal development, happily taking on the responsibilities that were before denied them, with the familiar social constraints shoved aside through their exposure to the promotion of women's rights thanks to the aid groups' influence.