THE BLOG

Women's History Month: The Forgotten Women of Syria

31/03/2016 16:53

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Syrian refugee women are facing serious human rights violations, exploitation and gender-based violence on a daily basis.

As Women's History Month draws to a close, my thoughts are drawn to those overlooked at present. Since the start of the Syrian Conflict, a quarter of a million people have been killed, one million injured, and nearly eight million internally displaced. Just under five million registered Syrian refugees have fled to nearby countries and over 75 per cent of these are women and children - facing a unique set of challenges of their own.

Whilst the conflict has dominated the news since it began, there's been a lack of attention on the effects it has had on Syrian women and the obstacles they've had to overcome on a daily basis. Dispossessed and stripped of their identities, many have fled their homes to make perilous journeys to unknown futures. After five years of war, it is time we stood in solidarity with these women and the issues affecting them to ensure their voices aren't drowned out. It is history's duty to remember, ours is to act.

A report by the International Rescue Committee interviewed those at the forefront of the conflict and identified the challenges they face. Many had been subject to sexual and gender-based violence, overwhelmed by economic strife, and psychologically scarred by a war that seemingly has no end.

Those interviewed discussed the daily reality of sexual exploitation and extreme levels of harassment. They spoke of increased incidents of domestic violence and adolescent girls being coerced into early marriages due to displacement and dwindling resources.

According to UN figures, more than 145,000 Syrian refugee women are now the sole breadwinners of their families, struggling to provide food and shelter for their children and often having to deal with harassment, indignity and isolation.

However these women want to be regarded as more than just victims of brutality.

Dalal, displaced in Jordan, says "I consider myself an activist - not necessarily a political one, but I go out and help others - even in the camp. I have some medical training so I walk around to see if anyone is sick or wounded - I also assist doctors and EMTs from time to time. It has been a constant struggle, but now I am more powerful. I want my daughters to finish school. I want my business to grow. I want stability. And I am slowly making things happen."

Women like Dalal are agents of change who, if given the opportunity, can transform their societies. But the international community's failure to provide sufficient aid in response to the crisis has further hindered the economic and security situation of these women.

We need to provide greater support for the medical, psychological and economic needs of refugee women and ensure their meaningful participation in peace negotiations and state-building initiatives. Recognizing their roles and experiences is critical to developing appropriate responses to their needs. History will remember these women but they deserve more than rhetoric; action is required now.

Whether they're protesting, providing humanitarian assistance or taking sole responsibility for their families, these women are not only bearing the brunt of this conflict but persevering in spite of it. "The women of Syria have faced extraordinary loss, yet they persist as activists, caregivers, and humanitarians," says Liesl Gerntholtz, Women's Rights Director at Human Rights Watch. In the aftermath of the war, these will be the very women who rise above the rubble; and their strength will be critical to rebuilding Syria's future.

Syria Emergency Appeal

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