SafetyJuly 5, 2023|5 min read
As we were growing up in Damascus, we were not allowed to dream or fly. I was in an invisible cage, where escape routes were none. We were watching women growing in bounds, holding different positions with their leadership skills, from politicians to sportswomen, and the world was welcoming women and their talents. But here, we were trapped in a world where women had no voice- deep truth shared by a Syrian adolescent from Qamishli.
She is not alone. Her words painted a grim picture of what countless girls are facing while growing up amid the Syrian crisis. Entering the 11th year of the Syrian crisis, the conflict has taken a toll on everyone’s life but the most affected among the crowd are women and children.
As per the reports, around 1.7 million displaced Syrian women and children are living were surviving in overcrowded camps or unfinished vacant buildings, battling with extreme climate change, and surviving with risk.
One of the most common difficulties refugees faced was the language. It was a barrier to entering the new society and added hindrances like employment opportunities. The proportion of working members in Syrian refugees in just Turkey is estimated at more than 50% – but with an unemployment rate of over 17%.
Every day was a struggle,
Battling with livelihoods.
No employment, no food to eat.
Based on the report from IRS (International Rescue Committee), women in Syria faced three major issues.
Top on the list is sexual exploitation and harassment, followed by no proper homes and which leads to domestic violence the first and very important is forced and early marriages, serial marriages for sexual pleasures, which lead to lives with anxiety, Depression, and Post-traumatic stress Disorder (PTSD).
Ummah, 38 years old from Jordon, emphasized how adaptive women of Syria are, and smart too. They are the providers of the house, and while the responsibility is tiresome, and a real struggle but they still stand strong as pillars. She says it is exhausting the daily negotiations for physical and sexual safety when securing food, water, clothing, and shelter.
She has been through abuse in Syria as well, but she was trying to find answers to how to cope with the trauma that is building within them and their younger ones. They are surely saved from bomb drops and gunshots but the aftermath is terrifying.
Ummah shared how her struggle is real, and she is on repeat mode not for survival but also to keep her dignity intact. She mentioned her sisters, aunts, and mothers displaced inside Syria, conflicts raged, and they hold on to the string of hope, silently hoping and praying for the conflicts to end.
Around 595 attacks had been reported against the medical facilities in Syria between March 2011 and 2021. Medical staff like Resham are risking their own lives every single day to protect everyone from fleeing war and persecution.
Resham is 44 years old when she first gave her interview in the refugee camp while treating a patient. She was previously a nurse, now a midwife, and a displaced mother who passed her medical examination while the bombing destroyed her village and her house.
She said proudly “The bombing would start, and my husband and two of my daughters would hide in the bathroom, holding on to each other while I had to do the exam and couldn’t join them. I knew women around would need my help more than ever.” And here she is, helping everyone round the clock.
While saving up lives, fled refugees have treasured their little hearts with happy memories of the past, adding twilight of dreams. While talking to children, their innocent faces had a smile of joy, beneath hidden the silent traces of the traumatizing journey that they had to embark on as they saw their homes turning into ashes.
Every child had a dream to share. One wanted to become a doctor, and another wanted to be an artist. While one child shared how she miss going to school, and one child told the team how she misses home.
One of the children in the group, Tasneem says the most important thing for her is to go back to school, making her dream come true. She dreamt of becoming a teacher and supporting her family with money. She has many friends here in camp, and they help her to read and write, while she still believes in herself.
Women and children are displaced in Syria while trying to survive in the refugee camps with limited food and water supply. However, Jamila, a mother of three, and displaced four years ago shares how amazing it feels to rebuild life at the camp. Initially, it looked difficult, and handling kids was tiresome. Now we are a family. She has friends who listen to her vent, support her, and share their pain, while she listens. The best, she feels safe. She can protect herself and my children.
She regained a sense of dignity despite the difficult experiences. She is happy and so are her children.
It was quite common for Syrian Girls to tie the knot even before their 13th birthday. As per the reports, almost 15% of adolescent girls are married off to older men before their touch their 18th birthday. Some have children before they are officially adults. However, conflicts and displacement made these conditions even worse, and child marriage was becoming a regular practice.
Alina, 20 years old was the eldest among the 13 siblings shared how she was forced into marriage at the age of 14.
She expressed her agony through words while talking to the team. She begged for her life to her father and her uncle who set this up. She requested them to take her wedding dress off her and put her in a coffin instead. It went very ugly and she was married to the man of her father’s choice. Although the marriage didn’t work for long, she took this daring step and walked out of wedlock.
Alina is now a community leader and takes a stand for women and girls in her community as she strives to empower them. She doesn’t leave a stone unturned in raising awareness about child marriage and violence against women. She is also teaching women Self-defense techniques to save themselves from domestic violence.
Among the unsung heroes of our real life, Yusra Mardini, 25 years old, a member of the refugee camp was raised in Darayya, a suburb of Damascus. She was trained as a swimmer with the support of the Syrian Olympics Committee. However, during the war breakout, her house was destroyed and Yusra and her sister Sarah decided to flee Syria in 2015. Her first stop was Lebanon, then headed to Turkey where they were smuggled into Greece by a boat with 18 other migrants.
The boat could hold not more than 7 people, but this was their only escape route, everyone hopped in. The motor stopped working due to overload, and the dinghy began to take water in the Aegean Sea. That’s when the superwoman along with her sister and two other migrants, pushed and pulled the boat through the water for over 3 hours until they reached the island of Lesbos. Later, Yushra and her sister walked through Europe to Germany where they settled in Berlin in September 2015.
She had nothing to carry from Syria to Germany except for her dream to be a part of the Olympics. She continued her coaching in Berlin. She was one of the ten athletes shortlisted for the newly formed Refugee Olympic team.
Nothing could stop her from being a part of her dream and Mardini competed in the 100 meters freestyle and the 100 meters butterfly at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio and won a 100m butterfly heat against four other swimmers, with a time of 1:09.21.
Mardini competed again in the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. It was a moment of pride when she carried the flag of the IOC Refugee Olympic Team in the athletes’ parade in the opening ceremony. In the competition, women’s 100m butterfly, she swam a time of 1:06.78 in the heats.
Among the unsung heroes, every woman stands as an inspiration to one another, holding hands and proving to the world that gender is just a term. We all are human, and if there is any religion to be followed and that should be humanity.
We, the team of I’m Safe App, salute and honor the women struggling with their lives and displaced families, dealing with abuse, saving children from being harassed, helping one another in the camp, and much of everything that keeps you going.
It’s a difficult phase, this shall too pass. But what is important, is the brave face and the courage to face the world. Hats off to every woman out there, because you are just not an inspiration but a story to remember.