Syria

Five unique challenges facing Syrian refugee women

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Written by Kristin Myers

Being a refugee is one of the hardest things any human being can face. But being a female refugee brings even more challenges. These are just a few.

For five years, Syria has been ravaged by a deadly conflict that has destroyed families and communities, and caused massive destruction across the country.

Since the start of the war, 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. Over 75 percent of those refugees are women and children. And they face their own unique challenges.

1) Domestic violence

Many Syrian refugee men are unable to find work and provide for their families. As a result, their traditional role within the family is being disrupted, leading to stress and lowered self-esteem. As men face mounting poverty and desperation, their frustration has increasingly turned into physical violence towards their wives. Women have reported that stress has led to them to be violent towards their children as well.

2) Child brides

Even before the war, around 1 in 10 Syrian marriages involved a girl under 18. Tragically, the ongoing conflict and refugee crisis has caused this number to increase sharply. UNICEF reports that in some Syrian refugee camps 32 percent of registered marriages involved a child under the age of 18. Marriage is now more frequently seen as a way of providing for daughters when there are few other options, as well as offering some protection from sexual violence.

3) Prostitution

The UN estimates that women lead a quarter of Syrian refugee households in Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt, meaning that many women are forced to take on the hardships and responsibilities of a family while coping with dwindling resources. While it is difficult for Syrian men to find work in host communities, it is even harder for women, leaving them jobless and desperate. Many women have been forced to turn to prostitution to make money for food and rent. Others engage in what is termed “survival sex” — taking lovers in exchange for food, clothing, and shelter.

4) Suicidal thoughts

Syrian refugee women — particularly those without adult male family members — are an increasingly vulnerable population, and fear of sexual assault is keeping many indoors. This insecurity, as well as growing feelings of isolation and desperation, often leads to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.

5) Loss of hope

The deadly war in Syria has now gone on for 5 years. While almost all refugees want to return home, their belief that they will be able to go back is steadily disappearing. Many refugees see the conflict as worsening, with no end in sight. Uncertainty about the future is causing many refugees to despair.

What Concern is doing about it

We work with Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Turkey, addressing their shelter needs, and providing hygiene and food supplies. Concern is also helping children access education, providing psycho-social support to women and children, and building resources for communities to promote gender equality and reduce gender-based violence.