Syrian women troops expose 'rampant sexual abuse' within army
A video has emerged of women fighters in the Syrian regime's armed forces complaining about widespread sexual abuse and mistreatment at the hands of officers.
The footage, which was released by a group calling itself "The Secret Panthers", shows five volunteers of the National Defence Force militia's Brigade 130, speaking candidly about their maltreatment as service personnel.
"We left behind our children and our civilian lives to come and defend our nation not to be called degrading words nor to enlist as prostitutes," the first of the volunteers said.
"The officers treat the girls they fancy preferentially and pass them around. The have robbed us of our pay and food rations, as well as degraded us with their immoral treatment," the second woman says as she holds up her military identification card.
"Some of the girls are allowed to miss military exercises because the officers take advantage of them sexually," she later adds.
Another soldier complains that she was denied holiday leave to see her children because she refused to perform sexual favours on a high-ranking officer, while others who obliged were granted time off.
|Hundreds of women have joined the regime's army and militias [Getty]
Since the outbreak of the conflict in Syria in 2011, hundreds of women have joined the National Defence Forces - militias made up of armed civilians.
In 2015, Damascus created an elite commando unit of women soldiers to "promote the role of Syrian women" and fill essential roles along the frontlines (including as snipers and tank operators).
Abu Omar, a member of the group that leaked the video, said that the video exposed the corruption and moral decay of the regime's military apparatus.
"The regime has accused the rebels of allowing 'sexual jihad', which we deny. This video is conclusive evidence that sexual exploitation is rampant in the ranks of the military," Abu Omar told al-Jazeera this week.
Sexual jihad or Jihad al-Nikah is a controversial practice that allegedly takes place within some Islamist militant groups - it involves women helping fighters by offering themselves for sexual comfort.