5 unique challenges facing Syrian refugee women

November 9, 2016
Written by Kristin Myers
Photo by Dalia Khamissy

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 six 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% 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.

Syrian refugees listen to Concern Protection Field Officer Rami Fares

Syrian refugees listen to Concern Protection Field Officer Rami Fares, unseen, during a gender-based violence session in which he engages men in Tal Abbas in Akkar, north of Lebanon. Photo: Dalia Khamissy

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% 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.

Syrian refugee family

Around a quarter of Syrian refugee households in Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt are led by women. The stress of needing to provide for their families without access to legitimate employment is taking a heavy psychological toll on many women. Photo: Kieran McConville

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 six 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.

Syrian refugee Nadia, 32, holds her son Omar, 13 months,

Syrian refugee Nadia, 32, holds her son Omar, 13 months, in their apartment in Akroum, in Akkar, north of Lebanon. Photo: Dalia Khamissy

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.

How can you help?

You can help us provide desperately needed resources to vulnerable Syrian refugee women and children: