What is a divorced woman's greatest fear

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Amira fled twice. The first time before the war in Syria, that was in 2011. And the second time four years later from Turkey - before her husband. That's where the two of them went when they were married for just 23 days. How did she get to know him? “I didn't get to know him, but my father,” she says.

From a purely legal point of view, women can also apply for a divorce in Syria. It is therefore still far from being socially accepted

Amira, 32, then got divorced in Germany. For Arab women in particular, there is some advice and solidarity in Germany. From a purely legal point of view, women can also apply for a divorce in Syria - albeit with greater restrictions than men. But there it is often the families, neighbors and friends who make it difficult for women.

The war hadn't really started when Amira and her husband left Syria. Amira's husband had another reason to leave: he smuggled weapons for the so-called Islamic State and the rebel group Ahrar al-Sham.

The family's apartment in Antakya soon became a hub for weapons and a stopover for injured fighters from Syria. Amira was pregnant at the time. She had already given birth to a young son in Turkey. Her husband spent all day on the internet. He talked to her less and less, and finally began to hit her.

"When I called my mother on the phone, she said I had to stay with him because I was married for the second time," says Amira. She is tall, wears black ripped jeans and straight black hair. She took off her headscarf after the separation. Her hometown Hama is very conservative and so is her family. The mother worried that this too would damage the family's reputation. Amira was married for the first time at the age of 13. The first divorce was only possible, she says, because her mother didn't like her husband at the time.

In Germany women are more likely to be supported and, if they are lucky, are also financially independent

When the second husband had to go to prison for nine months in 2015, she fled to Berlin with her two children. There she met Lina Ganama. The 61-year-old Syrian with dyed blonde hair has lived in Germany since 1986 and has worked for almost as long at Al Nadi, the meeting place for Arab women in the Schöneberg neighborhood home. When Amira's abusive husband followed her to Berlin and attacked her on the street, Ganama supported her in the divorce. Today there is a lawsuit against him and he is only allowed to see the children under supervision.

Ganama helps Syrian women in Berlin with their divorces. In Syria, some of them would stay with their husbands because they feared for their social reputation or did not earn their own money, she says. In Germany women are anonymous and, if they are lucky, also economically independent.

The anonymity in a foreign country means not only protection, but also loneliness

“I see it as my job to make women less afraid of divorce,” says Ganama, who herself divorced in Germany 18 years ago. During a visit to Syria, a neighbor said to her at the time: “You'd better not go outside so often, you have to pay attention to your reputation,” she recalls, amused. Since then, she has been working on the fact that women call themselves “mutallaqa” - “divorced” - loudly and without shame.

Shinar Moustafa actually lives now without shame about it: "Here I am not uncomfortable to say that I am divorced," says the 32-year-old Syrian from the Kurdish Afrin, who has lived in Kiel for three years. She had married out of love and at some point no longer felt loved by her husband. The fact that she gets her own money from the job center in Germany was decisive for her decision. And she's glad that she doesn't have to worry about unpleasant reactions here. "In Syria I would have had a lot more inhibitions," she says.

The anonymity in a foreign country means not only protection, but also loneliness. And divorce far from home has its downsides. Shinar Moustafa finds life as a single mother difficult in Germany. "The good thing about Syria would have been that I could have left my child with my family while I was at university," she says. Since she divorced her husband, she has not been able to continue her law studies, which she began in Aleppo, says Moustafa. "When my son is sick, I have to look after him and often can't even study for the German course." Her ex-husband doesn't help her at all.

"The good thing about Syria would have been that I could have left my child with my family while I'm at university"

And then there are the bureaucratic traps. Some women cannot get a divorce in Germany because their marriage has not yet been recognized. “We only work with WhatsApp here,” says Ganama. Relatives send pictures of the marriage certificate from Syria to enable the divorce. Others do it like Shinar Moustafa: She never had her marriage recognized in Germany. In Syria, however, she remains married to it. If you want to get it right, the best thing to do is to give a relative or lawyer in Syria a power of attorney, have the divorce carried out there and then have it recognized here, says Ganama. That goes faster anyway, because in Syria there is no year of separation before the divorce.

Pictogram: RedKoalaDesign / Getty images (Animation: fluter.de)

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