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The event Stories of change: Syrian Innovators for user-friendly Justice

“The daily justice needs for millions of Syrians remains urgent, and out of reach,” said Theresa Smout, HiiL’s Director of Justice Transformation, in her welcoming remarks during the event Stories of Change: Syrian Innovators for user-friendly justice. The 16 June event served as a capstone to Phase II of the Syria Justice Innovation Process (SJIP), a HilL-facilitated project committed to identifying and addressing the everyday legal problems facing Syrians.

Watch the video Stories of change: Syrian Innovators for user-friendly Justice

Since 2018, the Syria Justice Innovation Process (SJIP) has gathered knowledge on daily legal problems facing the people of Syria. This film recounts the HiiL supported project and profiles a diverse group of Syrians whose innovations and services are addressing the everyday legal problems facing Syrians.

From survivors of violence to empowered entrepreneurs

Through the SJIP initiative Ego Jasmine, Syrian women in Jordan, who have faced abuse or are facing abuse are economically empowered. These women will become financially independent, improving their well-being and being able to support themselves and their families. This is being done through an intensive online training in operational, technical and financial skills. Following the training, the women produce their own products to be sold online. This is also accompanied by an online campaign focused on digital storytelling, where the Syrian women share their personal stories and raise awareness about gender based violence, and connect with the public.

Legal identity of Syrian women

Syrian women married to foreigners often do not have legal documents such as the birth certificates of their children, their marriage certificates or ID. SJIP supports these women through one of the small scale initiatives and helps them access their legal documents by providing them with appropriate legal information and access to lawyers. This initiative is a first and unique in Syria, where these women face a lot of challenges such as social stigma and not being able to document their children. Not being registered, these children cannot go to school, they do not have access to healthcare and are in danger of becoming the lost generation. Since the launch of this initiative, crucial first steps have been made, such as trust and relationship building with the affected women but also within the communities. So far, a hundred women and between three hundred and four hundred children have been documented, and there has been awareness raising on the importance of this. This had an impact on the community, where now the women are approaching the initiators of this work for solutions to their legal problems. It is expected that more women and children will be reached and supported in the coming months.

Legal identity for all Syrians

The number of Syrians who do not have access to their personal documents is huge. This leads to many daily challenges such as not being able to access healthcare, not being able to register their new born children or not being able to inherit property. A specially developed user-friendly mobile app guides Syrians in obtaining their personal documents. This app also spreads awareness on the importance of registration and why it is important to have personal documents. This app guides Syrian refugees in Turkey. In its last development phase, the app will provide Syrian refugees with step by step practical guidance to fulfill in order to obtain the personal documents. The user enters this app, chooses the document that he/she needs and the app identifies the papers necessary to be extracted and the specific department that he/she has to visit, be it in Syria or in Turkey.

Putting an end to child marriages: a warm home for every child

Child marriages are a daily problem facing a large number of Syrian girls, especially Syrian girls in Turkey. To address this issue, a board game specifically developed through the Justice Innovation Lab on reducing violence against women, focuses on raising awareness of child marriages and enabling dialogue within Syrian families. The board game is currently being distributed and has a unique distribution method by attaching it to the Syrian bread bag. Syrian bread is bought on a daily basis by Syrians and this way the board game will have entered many homes of Syrian families. This is done in cooperation with Syrian bakeries and supermarkets in the Turkish city of Gaziantep.

Access to justice for Syrian women

Women in Syria continue to experience and witness violence. This SJIP initiative supports these women in access to justice and to claim their rights. It provides free legal representation in court for displaced Syrian women in Damascus living in poverty, and who either experience domestic violence or have lost or lack adequate personal documentation. To date, 21 cases were presented to the court. Of those, 10 have reached a ruling while 11 remain as ongoing lawsuits. The demand for free legal representation is very high where the lawyer is contacted by 200 women per day for legal support. Since this initiative launched last January, more women have become aware of their rights and seek to claim these rights. Many are no longer afraid of social pressure to stand up for their rights. Another interesting transformation is the ability to garner the support of influential religious judges by representing women in cases that are usually overlooked by the law.

Countering child marriages

After a decade of violent conflict in Syria, children continue to suffer the most. For example, having lost a parent or other family members, children remain vulnerable to early marriages. To tackle this issue of child marriage, especially Syrian girls in Turkey, a special puppet theatre was developed. The main objective through the puppet theatre is to raise awareness about early marriage among families, and what this means from a legal and personal perspective. What is unique about this project is the involvement of the hairdressers who prepare the hair of the young brides as well as the wedding dress makers and other key influencers from those communities. Their role is to create these safe spaces and environments where this taboo topic is discussed with the mothers and their daughters. One noticeable result has been the transformation of the minds of women when it comes to child marriage. This taboo is being broken within communities, where safe environments are provided to the mothers and their daughters, and where girls can voice their thoughts and feelings.

Preventing statelessness of Syrians

Since the Syrian crisis, many Syrians have lost or have no access to their personal documents. Children born in the last ten years do not have a legal identity or family status. These children can not prove that their parents are their actual biological legal parents and can not have access to education or healthcare. In an effort to prevent statelessness and legalise the status of stateless persons, a mobile legal clinic was established. This mobile clinic is helping many families in accessing their personal documents and regaining their legal identity.

Countering the cultural acceptance of honour killings

Honour killings is a big issue in some regions in Syria and there is a gap in the law to address this. To create spaces to counter the cultural acceptance of honour killings, various stakeholders are brought together. An online social media campaign aims to raise further awareness and to initiate dialogue on this problem. These stakeholders include youth, lawyers, judges, activists, influencers, and religious leaders.

Supporting women through Yasmina

To further support women facing violence, a chatbot was developed through SJIP. The chatbot, Yasmina, was launched last February, and in its first month online has reached over 850 women. This Arabic chatbot provides adaptive legal advice to Syrian women survivors of domestic violence and other forms of human rights violations. It also provides such women with the capacity to remain completely anonymous while also listing specialized entities able to offer in person support.

We at SJIP wanted to better understand what impact Covid-19 has on justice in Syria. Hence, we brought together a diverse group of Syrian voices to explore the relationship between Covid-19 and everyday legal problems in Syria, in particular SJIP’s Justice Innovation Goals.

We put together the outcome of these in-depth online discussions in a summary, which details the different layers of impact and possible strategic responses over the months and years to come. The summary can be found here.