Fatima Hassan grew up in difficult circumstances, abused and beaten constantly by her brothers.
She married a Palestinian-Jordanian man at the age of 20, who was already married with children but claimed he was separated from his wife and headed for divorce. Upon moving to Jordan to live with her new husband, Fatima was surprised to find his first wife still at home. When she confronted her husband, he told her that he in fact intended to remain married to his first wife, and Fatima simply had to accept the facts.
This new life of Fatima’s had its own share of suffering—the first wife’s jealousy made life exceedingly difficult, as did her new mother-in-law, who interfered in Fatima’s private matters and beat her to keep her in line, forbidding Fatima from going back to visit her parents in Syria or even talking to them on the phone. In addition, she subjected Fatima to a continuous barrage of verbal abuse because she belonged to the Alawite sect. Fatima’s husband not only did nothing to defend her, but she also had to put up with his constant lying.
Life went on like this for a number of years until Fatima’s husband finally told her she could visit her family, promising he would follow her the next day along with the children. Instead, what she received a few days after arriving were divorce papers, which forbid her from ever seeing her three children again.
Fatima returned to life at her parent’s house, under circumstances even more fraught than before. Her brothers had disapproved of her marriage from the outset because her husband had been a Sunni, and now that she was a divorced woman; her behavior and every movement were under much closer scrutiny. Her brothers offered no financial help at all and she was forced to work in order to provide for herself. She took jobs at sewing workshops and factories, and had to sell some of her gold to make ends meet. This was her life for five years, until she decided to marry again in order to give herself a better life, despite her mother’s disapproval of her new husband’s manners.
“My colleague at the sewing factory offered that I marry her husband,” says Fatima, “because she was sick and couldn’t perform the necessary wifely duties toward him or their three children. And so my friend arranged the engagement with my parents, and that's how I got married for the second time.”
Fatima took up residence with her husband and his first wife in the Al-Qaboun neighborhood in Damascus. The marriage lasted for ten years, during which time she had one child. This marriage was even worse than the first. Her husband was ill-mannered and a habitual liar who tried to force her into working in a brothel.
He cheated on her openly and beat her severely, disfiguring her and breaking her bones. He also accused her of stealing money from him, and she was sentenced in absentia, spending about three months in the Douma Women’s Prison. He went so far as to take advantage of her illiteracy, making her sign papers that she discovered five months later were in fact divorce papers, and she was once more out without a roof over her head.
Fatima was forced to take up work as a housemaid in order to be able to afford to rent a place she could live in with her son. This did not give her any measure of protection from her ex-husband, who continued to stalk her, abusing her with insults, beatings and making accusations against her to sully her reputation and confiscating all the money she earned from her work. Fatima tried to make a complaint against him, but police corruption and bribery from her ex-husband meant that the complaint did the opposite of what she intended, rather than help her, instead it served to further justify the abuse meted out to her.
Fatima then tried to sue her husband in order to uphold their divorce and to get him to pay the bride price which he had not yet paid. Her husband insisted that she was lying in order to avoid having to settle the outstanding dues. He also kidnapped Fatima’s son, whilst he was legally in Fatima’s custody. The boy ran away from his abusive father and his wives repeatedly, and each time Fatima’s ex-husband went to the police accusing her of having kidnapped their son.
After her second divorce, Fatima had no contact with her family whatsoever for a period of three years, though she did manage to keep in contact with her son. Finally, she married for a third time, a marriage that has lasted for twelve years so far, to a man whom she describes as kind and who treats her gently.
“My current husband treats me very well,” says Fatima, “and understands that I have suffered and am all alone in the world. Even if he’s taken a second wife, I still have a special place in his heart.”