Refugee women need to know more of their rights

June 14, 2016

By Erin Ellis, The Province |

Female refugees arriving in Canada from Syria desperately need educating about their rights, an obstetrician-gynecologist from Syria’s second-largest city told a medical conference in Vancouver on Tuesday.

Refugees from rural areas of Syria — who make up the largest portion of families sponsored by the Canadian government — have no knowledge of contraception, sex education or hospital births, said Dr. Vanig Garabedian, former head of a maternity hospital in Aleppo, which was destroyed by rocket fire. He arrived in Toronto last December with his wife and three daughters, all privately sponsored refugees.

“Women think their only role in life is childbearing and raising them and that their role ends at menopause,” said Garabedian. “After that, they do not exist.”

He told the opening afternoon of a national conference for the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada that doctors need to be aware of the vast differences between urban and rural newcomers from Syria. Because government policy there concentrated on development in cities including Damascus and Aleppo, women in agricultural regions have 10 children on average and attend school only until Grade 6, while city dwellers typically have four children and a high school education.

That means Canadian doctors should be prepared to have husbands attend consultations with their wives and — at least initially — allow men to make the decisions, Garabedian advises. Also, ease newcomers into Canadian life and equal rights. Never tell an unmarried woman she is pregnant in front of others, he suggests, and if asked by a family to determine whether a daughter is a virgin, conclude that she is. To do otherwise could put her at risk of an honour killing.

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