Jerusalem bishop speaks out against Syria sexual violence

(Photo: Episcopal News Service)The Rt. Rev. Suheil Dawani, bishop of The Episcopal Diocese in Jerusalem, is seen in an undated file photo.

Jerusalem's Anglican bishop has denounced sexual violence against Syrian women and girls linked to the ongoing war, urging Christians to work to change "archaic attitudes" toward women that dominate the region.

The International Rescue Committee reported earlier in January that a survey of refugees in Lebanon and Jordan found that rape was cited by refugees as a primary reason their families fled the country.

"The latest news coming out of Syria and the refugee camps is so deeply appalling and tragic. I pray daily for all those in the midst of pain and terror, especially the women and children," said the Rt. Rev. Suheil Dawani, head of the diocese in Jerusalem, according to the Anglican Communion News Service.

"As refugees, women and girls (and boys) remain vulnerable to multiple forms of gender-based violence, and unfortunately few cases are reported due to the feeling of shame or fear of retribution," he said.

"As Christians, not only in the Middle East, but worldwide, we are called to respond to this crisis," Bishop Dawani said. "Jesus is our example of how we are to live and Our Lord has specifically told us to 'look after orphans and widows in their distress' (James 1:27b) and we are to treat each other with respect and kindness –'love your neighbor' (Mark 12:31)."

"We, as Christians, must work to be the bridge of reconciliation that can bring peace, with justice, to the Middle East," he added. "In this land, that all the Abrahamic faiths hold holy, we co-exist, living side by side; however, we cannot be a silent witness to the brutal treatment of women and children. The ravages of war will leave, are leaving, deep scars that will take generations to heal."

"It is vitally important that we work to change the archaic attitudes that dominate this region of the world. Generations of women know nothing more than continued suffering," he said.

The Rev. Dawani highlighted work his diocese is doing to changes perceptions. He said the diocese has schools and training centers that treat boys and girls equally and where they are also encouraged to take part in learning and activities that foster positive and respectful relationships regardless of gender, ability and ethnicity.'

He said the diocese, through its Women's Ministry, was in awareness initiatives such as the anti-women's violence "White Ribbon Day" and participating in the '16 Days of Activism for the Elimination of Violence Against Women."

Rapes a primary reason for escaping Syria

The International Rescue Committee, an organization which seeks to help refugees around the world, said in a report released earlier this month that Syrian refugees it surveyed, both men and women, in Lebanon and Jordan cited rape as a primary reason their families fled the country.

"We surrendered to the reality of rape," said one refugee in Lebanon.

Many women told of being attacked in public or their homes, primarily by armed men. Some rapes occurred in front of family members.

The organization says medical and counseling services for those who have fled "are woefully inadequate."

'Pleasure Marriages' a problem

Ziyad Hamad, whose charity Kitab alSunna is working with Syrian refugees in Jordan, told the Telegraph last week that men are engaging in fake marriages to gain access to Syrian women and girls.

"We realized these were Mut'ah or 'pleasure marriages,'" he said. "It's a fake marriage; they use handwritten documents that are not registered by a Shiekh [religious leader].

"Men travelled from Saudi Arabia and other countries to marry girls in the camps," he said. They would pay rent for a home outside the camp and tell the women they would support them. Then they would have sex with them and divorce them one week later."

He says the men promised the marriage would be formalized in Saudi Arabia, but they would leave and change their phone numbers.

"Many Syrian girls have been impregnated and abandoned in this way."

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