Her right to own and control

Social and behaviour change to improve Syrian women’s access to their rights

December 19, 2022

Fatima from Sfera in Rural Aleppo maintaining the ceiling of her home

By: Kenda Al Zaim, Head of Solutions Mapping, UNDP Accelerator lab Syria

Character 1: It has been one year since our father passed away, but we still haven’t talked about the inheritance! I want to know what my share is.

Character 2: Inheritance?! How dare you bring up such a topic!? Have you no shame?!

Character 1: But according to the law I am entitled to a share of our father’s property.

Character 2: You are entitled to nothing. Are you planning to tear this family apart, have you no shame? This money should and will stay in the family. I don’t want to hear another word from you on this topic.

I bet that just by going through these lines, you are assuming that the gender of character 1 is female, which is correct! Because this is not fiction, it is not a scenario from a movie. This is based on true stories that we hear every day from our families, neighbourhoods, and communities, not only in Syria but in many other parts of the world. I am deliberate in using the pronoun "our" to show that women everywhere are exposed to such patriarchal practices, no matter how rich or poor they are, or the level of education and financial independence they have reached. Only those who are empowered can fight back and claim their rights in a way that vulnerable women would never dare to. Owning property is one form of power that allows women to have control and make decisions over their own assets and possessions, thus giving them more autonomy and independence. Also, property rights are essential to ensure women's dignity, privacy, food security, livelihood, and access to financial opportunities. That is why patriarchal societies create a social structure that strips women of many forms of power and limits their opportunities to keep them dependent and "under control".

We are still living in a world where patriarchal societies are perpetuating structural violence against women. A world where restrictive gender roles are preventing women from going beyond what society has decided for them. Denying women their property rights and excluding them from collective resources is a manifestation of this structural violence. In Syria, even though both religion and law recognize women's property rights, women are coerced by social norms to give up these rights to their male relatives. Women and girls are made to believe that to be a "good" and "modest" woman in your community, you should give up your economic and property rights to your male siblings and relatives. Those who dare to demand their property rights will be portrayed as "shameless" women who are defying and damaging society's social traditions and structures. In many cases, it might lead to stigmatization and alienation in their communities, and even the worst forms of reprisals, including physical and psychosocial violence.

In Syria, the over a decade-long crisis has exacerbated already existing inequalities, making women more vulnerable and exposed to losing their property rights. The crisis has caused: damage to the government’s legal infrastructure, loss of civil and real estate documentation, and massive forced displacement. These factors in turn have increased pressure on women by further affecting and limiting their access to economic opportunities and independence.

Yes, women's access to property rights is a multifaceted, complex challenge that has many contributing factors and drivers. However, social norms and cultural beliefs are among the strongest barriers standing between women and their rights to own and control properties. UNDP Syria has taken the first steps to overcome these barriers. In the past couple of years, UNDP Syria has provided capacity-building trainings to future lawyers and conducted awareness campaigns for communities to increase men's and women's knowledge about women's rights. However, awareness alone is not enough to overcome behavioural barriers and change the behaviour of both women and men, which is driven and affected by their social norms. Therefore, a behaviourally informed intervention should be designed to provide more effective and targeted methods to address specific challenges and protect women's property rights. That is where behavioural insights come in.

Behavioural insights (BI) is an innovative approach that has been adopted by UNDP to design interventions and policies in a more inclusive and behaviourally informed way. This inductive approach is originally used to design policies that address complex challenges. It draws on insights and empirical research in fields that include psychology, sociology, cognitive sciences, and economics. Behavioural insights focus on understanding how people make decisions, what the barriers and drivers are behind identified behaviours, and how their behaviour can be influenced to bring positive change to societies.

The Accelerator Lab Syria has partnered with the Magenta team to apply and test behavioural insights to support women in accessing their property and inheritance rights. This collaboration will explore not only the main barriers faced by women when trying to access their property rights, but also drivers that are pushing men and society more broadly to deny women these rights. By identifying key behavioural insights to leverage, the Magenta team will support UNDP in designing a potential future intervention to address these barriers and drivers. Our main learning question is: "How can men be part of the solution to create an enabling environment where women are no longer shamed or violated just because they claim their rights?" The aim of this project is not to confront society and challenge existing cultural norms. Instead, we hope to work with targeted communities and draw on their own experiences to find entry points to leverage and to effect positive behavioural change that will increase women's access to their property and inheritance rights.

We are now in the first phase of the project, and will keep you updated about our journey, how it goes, what our key findings and insights are, and what the proposed solutions are for future interventions. Stay tuned!