Gender-based violence throughout the Syria conflict: A 7-year analysis

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21/01/2019 12:00 am

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Gender-based violence (GBV) has become a prominent public health issue in the Syria crisis; amplified by the protracted nature of the conflict and the social stigma surrounding it. The Lancet-American University of Beirut Commission on Syria conducted the first systematic and comprehensive analysis to understand the scope of this problem and its health ramifications through synthesizing both peer-reviewed and grey literature published on the issue over seven years.


Evidence-gathering included three components: 1) extraction of publications on GBV following a scoping review of peer-reviewed literature on health and Syria between 2011 and 2018; 2) screening of websites of humanitarian organizations for reports on GBV and Syria; 3) screening for audiovisual material identified through an online search. We then triangulated and synthesized evidence to analyze the magnitude and determinants of GBV in the Syria context, its health impact, and the adequacy of the response to it.


High yet underestimated rates of forced marriage, sexual violence and intimate partner violence are reported among Syrian refugees and internally-displaced persons. Many women reported facing sexual exploitation by smugglers and aid workers. This has had health repercussions on women and their families. Structural factors included vilifying cultural attitudes about GBV, inhospitable laws in host communities and inadequate legal, economic, and social protection of Syrian women. While GBV services have progressed in quantity and quality over seven years, access of women has been restricted by limited access to services, poor coordination, gender discrimination, distrust of aid providers and the lack of a holistic approach in response to the challenges of GBV.


GBV in the Syria conflict is an important public health problem with multifaceted structural factors and a long-term health impact that demand a more holistic and multi-sectoral humanitarian response.

Key messages:

  • Gender-based violence remains an underreported and under-addressed public health problem in the Syrian crisis, owing to vilifying cultural attitudes and to an inadequate humanitarian response.
  • Humanitarian response to GBV in the Syrian conflict requires a multi-sectoral approach that does not merely provide services but also addresses legal, economic and social protection of Syrian women.

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