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Unpacking Gendered Realities in Displacement: The status of Syrian refugee women in Jordan

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The Syria crisis has resulted in the forcible displacement of hundreds of thousands of people across the region, many of whom are seeking protection in neighboring countries, including the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Jordan continues to support one of the largest Syrian refugee populations in the world, nearly 700,000 of which are formally registered with UNHCR. Eightysix percent (86%) of Syrian refugees live below the Jordanian poverty line and three quarters (75%) are considered severely or highly shelter vulnerable. For the nearly half of Syrian refugees that are women and girls, which this report is focused on, the risks encountered in displacement are heightened by gender discrimination and inequalities.

This study, commissioned by UN Women and undertaken by Ipsos, seeks to better understand the changing nature of gender dynamics, women’s roles and responsibilities in displacement, their experiences of and access to humanitarian aid, and experiences of violence. It consists of 39 qualitative in-depth interviews with Syrian refugee women living in urban and rural host communities in Amman, Mafraq, and Irbid that took place in January 2018.

In both Syria and in displacement in Jordan, conservative gender roles have kept many women and girls from participating equitably in the public sphere, a notion that is directly challenged by the need for Syrian refugee women in Jordan to provide for their families. Unsurprisingly, the women who participated in this study cited a lack of financial resources as their primary concern. Women discussed the limited options available to them to deal with these shortages. For some, these options included illegally moving away from refugee camps, where work opportunities were limited, to find better work, or taking jobs that they would not have otherwise taken. For almost all, this meant making sacrifices: some women chose to eat poorly or significantly less to ensure food for their families, while others chose to borrow money from shops, family, or neighbors.
For those that were able to access humanitarian aid, it was cited as insufficient and inconsistent. Many women reported not completely understanding the aid system, including where to apply for, and access such aid. Women expressed a general distrust in the humanitarian aid system, and the sentiment that they would be better off if they were able to work and provide for their families themselves, rather than be dependent on aid. In addition to general confusion and distrust, a few women reported hearing of incidents where service providers had propositioned female heads of household, offering them additional aid.

Consistent with prior UN Women research on livelihoods in Jordan, many women reported wanting to be able to contribute to household income, but expressed difficulties finding work. Issues ranged from the inability to obtain a work permit to a lack of available jobs that were considered appropriate for women. This led women to accept informal employment: tailoring, cleaning houses, tutoring, and cooking for neighbors and family. Informal, home based employment, was accepted by many as the only option available to them, rather than as their preferred modality for engagement in the labor market. While some women saw this work as shameful or demeaning, they did report feeling grateful that they were able to help their families survive.