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Then there's the dowry money to be given directly to the family; at its very lowest it now amounts to between four and six months of a young man's annual salary. Shukran told James Harkin how hard it is to find a husband now in Damascus because war has left so many dead but also because of migration.
Ghoufran, left, and Shukran, right, are among the many women in Damascus left without a boyfriend partly as a result of war. Countless young Syrian men, as a consequence, have been disappointed in love. Now his chief concern was the military service he'd have to do on the completion of his studies; like many he was studying, at least in part, to postpone the call up. Almost all his friends had already disappeared. Even before they'd got around to meeting, meet, the relationship fizzled,' he said. Yara, a 23 year-old teacher, estimates that there are now four women for every one man in her circle of friends.
It's the fate of her and her unlucky peers, she bemoaned, to have been entirely airbrushed from the population. Maybe they finished studying, wanted to do something with their lives — and then along came the crisis. You have to deal with females all around, even at work. Money, or the lack of it, is also a factor affecting marriage for women such as Ghoufran. A dowry is to be given directly to the family and at it's very lowest it now amounts to between four and six months of a young man's annual salary.
Shukran told how in Syria's traditional culture young men need gold to get married, and it's now it's so much more expensive; a single gram costs 17, Syrian pounds 34 dollars. Only three out of ten of her teaching colleagues are men, much less than there would have been before the conflict. It's really difficult for a woman to find a husband, a good husband. And if you do find a man, he's wearing military clothes. And even if you meet a man, you're thinking — what happens next?
Will he travel, or will he do military service? Sometimes they spend a year or two without seeing their families. And if he's lucky enough to be the only child, [only male children get an exemption from compulsory military service in Syria, which sometimes make them sought after] there are no jobs. Even the young men who are still around aren't much of a prospect.
Many, reflects year-old documentary-maker Ghoufran, are only teenagers, and much too young to be serious romantic prospects. Lacking money and a way of getting out of the country has made many of them desperate. Others have given up on finding a relationship, she thinks, and spend too much time just talking to women on the internet. Several young Syrian men have offered to marry her, she's convinced, with half an eye on her salary.
One glamorous 30 year-old journalist I met for a quiet drink had had enough. Young Syrian men, she complained, 'are stressed, they don't have any money to bring up children…they complain all the time about work, and the military, I don't feel any stability with them. In any case she didn't want a partner who was going to join the army; many soldiers now get only three or four days leave a month and she wasn't sure when, or whether, she'd ever see him again. The women will suffer', says Yara, who has friends in rebel areas of Northern Syria.
Another consequence of the conflict is that younger women have become prey to older men in their fifties and older who proposition them for affairs, sex, or a second marriage. It happened to almost all the women I met in Damascus. Others think they're getting older, they're still single and don't want to be alone or childless, so they accept. But the men just want to have fun, to play sex.
Most want 'just an affair, a sexual thing', complained Shukran. In the deeply impoverished, war-ravaged conservative Sunni Muslim areas of the country, many of which lie outside government control, the choices facing unmarried women are much more grievous than illicit relationships.
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Many find themselves widows and dependent on handouts from NGOs or the UN — or on a man to remarry them. In parts of rural Syria polygamy was already common, and entirely lawful; but what was formerly a matter of cultural and religious tradition has now become an abject necessity.
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Sometimes a man has up to four wives. Many such women end up entirely dependent on NGO's or UN aid, or forced into remarrying with a much older or entirely unsuitable man. A soldier friend of Yara's, while serving in the countryside, was offered someone's daughter in marriage for Syrian pounds about ten dollars. For some middle-class women, however, the conflict has even proven a minor liberation.
Yara reckons that about per cent of her female friends have come out as gay — a statistic which she attributes, at least in part, to the absence of men. We talk about a popular bar I'd gone to the previous evening to find lesbians dancing openly on the tables; even though homosexuality is technically illegal in Syria, it's hardly ever prosecuted. The conflict, concludes the Syrian women James Harkin spoke to, has swept already existing dissatisfaction within Syrian society out from under the carpet.
Even before the war, however, Ghoufran struggled to find a man who was her equal, and who wanted to treat her the same way.
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Now, in addition to holding down a job and helping support her extended family, she's winning international acclaim for her short films. I wear a veil, but I also act in plays. I have an open mind. I want to study more, to get more out of life. I'm working all the time, and tired. I want a man who loves me, who's not asking me to feed him all the time, and who understands me. The conflict, concludes Shukran, has swept already existing dissatisfaction within Syrian society out from under the carpet.
People are not satisfied. Maybe you are not supporting me like you should be. Or satisfying me in bed. The only thing she really misses is the prospect of motherhood — it would be impossible for a single woman to raise a child alone, even in relatively cosmopolitan Damascus. Friday, Jan 18th 5-Day Forecast. Syrian war has left cities full of single women Share or comment on this article: Syrian war has left cities full of single women with lesbians free to date e-mail 3.
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