Marriage prospects bleak for women in war-ridden Syria

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DAMASCUS: Syrian student Nour wistfully examined her bare ring finger, scanning her fellow classmates at Damascus University. Amid the sea of women, there was no eligible single man in sight.
At 30, Nour said she is eager to get married but Syria’s protracted conflict means potential suitors have emigrated, joined the army or lost their lives.

“I hope a wedding ring will decorate this finger someday,” said Nour, who asked to use a pseudonym to speak freely. “But there are no more young men here. I’m noticing a drop year after year.”

Syria’s conflict erupted in 2011 with mass protests, just as Nour prepared to graduate with her first degree in economics. She recalled fielding weekly marriage proposals at the time.

“But today these proposals have almost completely stopped. They’re limited to ones I see as incompatible for a normal marriage as they are either from men who are already married or old!”

To pass the time, Nour has opted to pursue her second degree at Damascus University in literature.

“I’ve got nothing to fill my time with. No friend, no lover, no husband,” she sighed, pulling her dyed blonde hair away from her face. “I’m terrified I’ll find a grey hair before I get married. I’ll definitely lose all hope at that point.”

In Syria’s broadly conservative society, women were generally expected to marry in their 20s, but the lack of eligible bachelors has somewhat relaxed those norms.

Missing ‘the marriage train’

“Now, because of the crisis, a woman could marry at 32 without people saying she’s late to wed,” said Salam Qassem, a psychology professor in Damascus.

More than 340,000 people have died in Syria’s war, and thousands of men have been deployed on front lines far from home.

Of the country’s pre-war population of 23 million, more than five million have fled the country and even more are internally displaced.

That has unravelled the social networks parents once used to find potential spouses for their sons and daughters, said Qassem.

“Neighbours used to all know each other in the past, or could get to know each other easily. But it’s different today” she said.

Some Syrians have creatively circumvented such obstacles with “Skype weddings”, where brides and grooms in different provinces or even countries authorise a third party to sign their marriage licenses as they exchange vows online.

Yusra, 31, said the fact that she has yet to wed makes her parents fret that she will “miss the marriage train”.
“I don’t want you to become a spinster, look around carefully to find a catch”, was Yusra’s mother’s advice. But much like Nour, Yusra, who works as a government translator, finds herself surrounded by women or by male colleagues that she considers too old to be compatible.

“Everyone knows a huge section of Syria’s youth has paid the biggest price for what’s happening,” the tall, slender woman told AFP.

“Some emigrated. Some are fighting. Financial considerations prevent others from even thinking of marriage, not to mention those who died over the past seven years,” Yusra said sadly.

On top of all that, she said the war has “widened the sectarian rift in society”, making people from different religious backgrounds less likely to get hitched.

The war has also led to skyrocketing inflation, widespread unemployment, and economic losses estimated at more than $225 billion making 37-year-old Firas balk at the thought of a wedding.

“Rising living costs and other financial factors make getting married impossible,” said Firas, who works in a washing machine repair shop in the neighbourhood of Bab Touma.

Mortar rounds fired by rebels entrenched outside the capital have landed near his shop, endangering his and lives of others.

“I can’t imagine my future as I’m living day by day, God knows if I’ll be alive tomorrow,” said Firas, who keeps a pencil tucked behind his ear even when he is not in the shop.

“Anyone that gets married in these circumstances is crazy. I can’t guarantee a safe and dignified life for myself, so how could I for my family?”

In a nearby district, medical student Munzer Kallas hangs a massive calendar on his bedroom wall, with key dates circled in red. They mark upcoming application deadlines for scholarships to pursue his studies abroad.

“I don’t think about marriage at all. Marriage needs stability, and I decided to follow my brother to Germany to try to gain some standing,” said Kallas, 26.