By Adela Suliman
LONDON, March 9 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Women in Syria have not only borne the brunt of the country's lengthy civil war, they have been marginalized and rendered invisible, a panel of experts at the Women of the World festival in London said on Friday.
Syrian women often lead households alone, because men fight or travel abroad, they said, while a lack of working hospitals meant an unknown number had died at home in childbirth. Others were sexually exploited venturing out for food or aid.
Laila Alodaat, a Syrian human rights lawyer, said the proliferation of weapons in households had also increased rates of domestic abuse and violence.
"This is one of the most violent conflicts of all time ... however it's one where we do not see the experiences of women," Alodaat said.
Other pressures include their being the primary caregivers, and trying to maintain everyday life during war, she said.
The conflict will enter its eighth year next week, having killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced half of the pre-war population of about 23 million from their homes.
Despite the difficulties, there was some cause for optimism said Itab Azzam, a Syrian filmmaker and author.
"I think the uprising has eased a lot of the social pressure on women and girls to submit to old-fashioned and extremely conservative values," she said.
The war had allowed women to take charge of their household finances, go out alone or take up work, said Azzam, adding that this did not end at Syria's borders.
In Germany, she noted, the rates of divorce were high among Syrian couples, with many women feeling able to leave abusive domestic situations and take part in society.
"I feel this change in the role of Syrian women and the empowerment is a very important catalyst for change and peace-building in Syria in the future," she told the audience.
Maryam Alhameed said the war had provided the chance of a new life. After her family were threatened by Islamic State, she fled Syria aged 15, first to Egypt and then to Scotland, where she is at high school.
"I am so happy, I feel like I've found myself," she said.
Alhameed, 19, said she was aware that, unlike many Syrian women, she had opportunities, which gave her a sense of responsibility and pride.
"I feel like I've got a future and a message," she said, adding that she hoped to become a journalist in order to raise the voice of other Syrian women and refugees.
On International Women's Day a convoy of about 2,000 women set off from Istanbul for the border with Syria to focus attention on the plight of women there, thousands of whom have been subjected to torture, rape or other inhumane treatment in Syria's prisons since the war began, organisers said.
President Bashar al-Assad's government has denied allegations of systematic torture, as well as allegations of widespread war crimes by government-backed forces and Syria's security services.
(Reporting by Adela Suliman; editing by Robert Carmichael. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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