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Supporting Resilience in Syria – Women’s Experience of the Conflict and the ‘New Normal’

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Conflict has brought about sweeping and protracted changes in the lives of Syrian people. Social networks have been indispensable in strengthening resilience of men and women, helping them to absorb and adapt in precarious situations, and still people continue to adjust to a ‘new normal’ as it relates to new livelihood strategies, new ways of accessing education, and, importantly, new gender roles. Related to this latter point, upon which this policy brief is focused, death, injury, disappearance, and displacement of many male heads of household, as well as punishing economic conditions, have forced many women to adapt the ways they work, their roles within traditional family structures, and most significantly, the way that they view themselves.

Women – both inside Syria, and women who are refugees in neighboring countries – have entered the workforce in much larger numbers, and are doing jobs often seen as being only for men. Women have been forced to learn new skills, forge new social networks, and change the way they perceive their own roles, and rights.

As both breadwinner and mother, many women report increased influence in family decision making. This has also brought about new feelings of independence, and has changed some views on marriage and dependence on a husband. But this dual role also brings stress and exhaustion, as women fulfil both the role of full-time breadwinner, as well as primary caregiver and homemaker. This compounds the psycho-social stress associated with nine years of conflict and for many, repeated displacement.

While change was necessary for survival, there continue to be many pressures from both family and community for women to return to more traditional roles. Indeed, some women interviewed indicated a desire to return to the traditional role they had always imagined for themselves. Whether women remain in these newfound roles by choice or circumstance, or return to traditional gender roles, this newfound confidence, strength, and sense of competency must be recognized, and reinforced. Donors, as well as humanitarian and development agencies can support Syrian women by;

1. Creating formal and informal opportunities for women to meet, share experiences, and support each other;

2. Taking active steps to support women-led, and women-focused civil society organizations, including through increased, and more direct funding mechanisms, and by creating a greater platform for women to influence humanitarian decision making;

3. Ensuring that programmes are available – at all stages of conflict and early recovery, and development – to help women access education and skill-building opportunities, as well as financial support, and other tailored support;

4. Ensuring that women have access to critical protection and legal services;

5. Funding and facilitating secondary support systems – including safe, affordable childcare, eldercare, and reliable, affordable transportation, as well as appropriate psychosocial and health care;

6. Factoring into all interventions the various psycho-social needs that all Syrians – women, men, girls and boys – may have, with particular attention to the different types and scales of risk and trauma that may have been experienced by women and men.