Living in the countryside of Idlib, Syria, the love of a mother for her two children could not stop her from insisting on getting a divorce with a husband she labels a ‘brute’.
The 25-year-old Umm Mohammed shudders when describing the ‘hell’ she lived with a savage man who was not shy to abuse her in every way imaginable.
“He would beat me for the slightest reason. He hits me with anything that falls within sight, mostly coarse leather belts. My skin was blue. I no longer trust men," says Um Mohammed with tears welling up in her eyes.
Women in Syria’s northwestern governorate of Idlib suffer from gender-based violence. Some call for social and religious reforms, and others urge for a women's revolution aimed at liberating women, while conservatives, especially sheikhs, object.
About 2 million people live in Idlib and are under the control of the armed Islamic opposition.
There are no statistics on violence against women, but lawyer Abeer al-Hashash, a lecturer on human rights in the Idlib governorate and an activist in the program of the Free Syrian Lawyers' Union, says that women’s rights abuses is present in most homes, if not all.
Estimates published by the World Health Organization indicate that 35 percent of women worldwide are subjected to violence by their partners or to foreign violence.
Article 1 of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, adopted by the United Nations since 1993, defines violence against women as any act of gender-based violence that results in or is likely to cause harm or inflict suffering onto women, whether physical, sexual or psychological. Abuse is taken also whether in public or private.
Researchers distinguish between multiple forms of gender-based violence against women: Physical violence, such as the beating of a wife or sister; social violence, such as preventing women from visiting friends and traveling; verbal violence, such as the demonization of women and inappropriate characterization; sexual violence, such as harassment of women and the marriage of minors; And political violence, such as preventing women from exercising their right to vote and run for office and political office.
Hashash calls for the elimination of all forms of violence. She says violence reflects ignorance, lack of awareness and social and moral backwardness, and describes Syrian society as a "pro-male society that views women as inferior, and regards them as property of men only."
Hashash regrets the contribution of women to gender-bias in society.
"It is women who first rejoice in the birth of a male more than the birth of the female, the first to distinguish between the education of the boy and the girl in favor of the male child, the first to allow the brother to suppress his sister or deprive her inheritance if she is sterile or does not give birth to a male," says the attorney.
Hashash calls for social and religious reforms that move Syrians forward into a free and enlightened society.
She believes that society will rise "when women rise” and that lectures and seminars limited to female presence are not enough to achieve the desired renaissance.
Hashash called for supportive media campaigns and that men receive a fuller and comprehensive education on women's rights.
The armed opposition imposed its hard-line view of religion on political, social and human rights in Idlib and disrupted laws.
Hashash calls for “the enactment of new laws that combat the oppression of women and back gender equality.”
"Islam is with freedom," said activist Khadija al-Zaidan, describing men who abuse women as "arrogant".
“They consider women to have a lesser mind … They say her place is her house behind the kitchen counter, and she is weak and needs protection.”
“They are oblivious and ignorant to the fact that women represent half the society we live in, and are partners with men, not slaves,” she said with a smile.
Zaidan believes women can excel in all areas, and calls on them to unite and take on fields of work, and urges them to "wage a massive women's uprising against outdated customs and traditions ... against an alpha male society".