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News, 11/29/2016

Working decreased the violence encountered by Syrian refugee women

The intermittent droning sound of sewing machines fills the air as we enter the port-a-cabin, where Syrian refugee women work, protected from the sun. These women are paid to sew baby clothes for maternity boxes - similar to Finland’s own “baby boxes” – provided to mothers of the tens of babies born as refugees each week in Jordan’s Za’atari camp, the world’s second largest refugee camp.

“My situation has changed a lot since I started working here, compared to when I first arrived to the camp,” says Lulu, a radiant 43-year old mother of ten children. She explains she is very happy to be able to earn money, adding: “We also have fun together with the women, we socialize and support each other”.

Lulu is one of the 10 000 women benefitting from the cash-for-work initiative designed to protect Jordanian and camp-based Syrian refugee women from violence by empowering them.

Lulu is one of the 10 000 women benefitting from the cash-for-work initiative designed to protect Jordanian and camp-based Syrian refugee women from violence by empowering them

Women in danger

Syrian refugee and Jordanian women face multiple challenges, as economic insecurity, a shortage of employment, lack of hope, and changing gender roles have increased tensions within families and aggravated gender-based violence.

UN Women reports a rise in domestic violence, sexual exploitation, an increase in trafficking of young Syrian women into forced marriage with foreign nationals, and a heightened risk of child marriage. According to a 2014 UNICEF study, the rates of child marriages in Jordan increased from 13 per cent in 2011 to 25 per cent in 2013.

Only some 1% of Syrian refugees have legal work permits, although the Government is committed to providing more job opportunities for Syrian refugees. Lack of awareness is a challenge: refugees fear that obtaining a work permit would mean losing their refugee status or cash aid, consequently not improving their situation. Opportunities to leave the camps are limited, and inside the camps there are scarce livelihood opportunities – while very few engage women. According to UN Women, Za’atari camp provides roughly 6,000 cash-for-work opportunities per day, with women accessing only 22-24% of them.

Employment in safe spaces protect against violence

Increasing self-reliance, and addressing employment and gender equality are at the core of the “Eid bi Eid” (hand in hand) programme, implemented by UN Women with the World Food Programme (WFP) and UNICEF, supported by Finland and Italy. Finland’s financial contribution from 2014 – 2018 will amount to a total of 2.3 million euros, as part of a larger strategy to build the resilience of Syria’s neighbouring countries coping with large numbers of refugees.

In these safe spaces, employment opportunities are available for vulnerable women to increase their average income by 50%; awareness-raising sessions are provided on protection issues; educational activities are available, and day care services for children are organized for mothers work.

The programme has led to been concrete results: a reported 20% decrease in domestic violence.

One Syrian woman at the Oasis reveals that since she joined the programme, she suffers much less violence at home. As a breadwinner for the family, she now feels empowered and safe.

Lulu’s journey

Since Lulu joined the programme seven months ago, working from 9am to 3pm during the week, she provides for her seven children. Lulu did not elaborate, but quietly mentions that she is now divorced.

Her life was turned upside down three years ago when she fled to Syria with her youngest children. “There was no hope in Syria,” Lulu explains. “Here we feel safe, and the children can go to school.”

Until then, she had lived with her husband and 10 children in a house of 250m2 that they owned in southern Syria. At 15, she married and started a life of farming olive trees while her husband drove a truck. Her youngest child is 6 years old, while her eldest is 27 years old.

Lulu’s eldest son is registered as a refugee in Germany and taking classes - with the aim of being able to study medicine one day. Her two other sons are students and still in Syria; they have not been able to flee due to the risks facing young men attempting to head to the borders. She talks with her three older sons when there is a functioning network.

For the future, Lulu remains resilient and optimistic: “I hope they (children) have a bright future and that they can complete their education,” Lulu says with optimism. “If they are among the top 5 students, they could get a scholarship to university. Inshallah (God willing), they will have a future after their school years”.

Miriam Azar

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