Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

Damascus Women in Male Occupations... Coast Crowded With Widows

Damascus Women in Male Occupations... Coast Crowded With Widows

Saturday, 8 February, 2020 - 09:45
Women working in the market | Photo: EPA

The absence of men forces Syrian women to assume the roles of mother, father, and breadwinner.

Despite the signs of fatigue apparent on her face, Sawsan continues to enthusiastically meet customers' demands in a candy store in Damascus after she suddenly found herself to be her family's only breadwinner.

These days, many of those in capital's markets and public spaces are women, some even call it “the city of women”. Others describe the city of Tartous, on the Syrian coast, as “the city of widows” because of the large number of men from the city killed fighting the war. Sawsan, 25, skilfully deals with clients, smiling as she serves their requests. She explains that she " did not choose to join the labor market, she was forced to" because of her need to support her two children after she lost her husband, who had been the family's sole breadwinner, in the second year of the war.

Sawsan, who works for eight hours a day, does not find the work embarrassing even though most of the shop's employees are men. She tells Asharq Al-Awsat: “life is hard, and it has become even harder recently. I have to work so that my children and I can survive; no one is knocking our door and giving us a money or bread. Thank God, my situation is better than that of others: I did flee from my home, and I earn 60 thousand pounds per month” (One US dollar is equivalent to one thousand pounds.)

There are no official numbers on female employment, but reports quoted an economist from Damascus who refused to be named for security reasons as saying that the percentage of females outnumbering males in markets and public spaces is as high as 80%. As a natural consequence, women's employment as compared to men's employment rose approximately 40 percent on average according to the same economist. He indicates that this percentage reached 90% at the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016.

After the exchange rate of the Syrian pound against the US dollar had been equivalent to between 45 and 50 pounds before the war, it gradually deteriorated as the war went on and is currently at about 1050. Prices for most basic materials surged, with inflation reaching 2400%. The average salary of employees in the public sector is between 20 thousand pounds (about 20 dollars) and 40 thousand pounds (about 40 dollars) per month, and for private-sector employees it is between 100 thousand pounds (about 100 dollars) and 150 thousand pounds (about 130 dollars) per month. While 100 thousand pounds is the minimum income needed for basic subsistence, studies and reports affirm that more than 93 percent of Syrians live below the poverty line.

An indication of women's desire to work comes from sources in ministries and governmental institutions. They told Asharq Al-Awsat that most of the applicants for jobs are women. Another indication is that the number of women wearing the uniform noticeably increased after many of them joined the army and the militias affiliated with the regime, which was rare before the war.

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