2014 - Ongoing
Three days before her son Zayid was born, I met Souad, 23-years-old from Aleppo, with her three children in a shelter for Syrian widows in Gaziantep, Turkey. Souad was married at fifteen to a distant relative who tortured her. Nine months earlier, her husband and son went missing during a bombing and Souad believes she would never see them again. Without documents, she smuggled into Turkey, seeking support and work to provide for her family.
A growing number of widows and young dependents having lost parents in the conflict are forced to become the main breadwinners in the struggle to survive in host countries. Limited access to shelter, food, employment, and security, however, leads to further humiliation and desperate recourse. “More and more Syrians are at the mercy of human traffickers, as they face closed borders and pushback to neighboring countries,” writes a recent post by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The war in Syria has displaced more than 9 million internally while each day, families and a majority of Syrian women and children join the near 4 million seeking asylum in neighboring countries. Syria, the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world today, now enters its fifth year.
In Kilis by the Syrian border, I met Iman who took advantage of her foreign appearance to smuggle supplies for civilians in need during the revolution. She was tortured and suffered electric shock in sensitive areas of her body for four months when she was caught and imprisoned by regime forces. Soon after her release, Iman smuggled herself and two girlfriends into Turkey, looking for work and surviving off of $30USD monthly UN food vouchers. A Syrian social worker in exile found Iman and offered her a place to stay at her barely furnished apartment in Kilis.
Reported harsh living conditions impose a threat to children who may face increased pressure to enter into early marriages. Women whose often forced reliance on male family members leave them isolated at home and removed from public safe-spaces to socialize. A UNHCR’s Participatory Assessment found “Women spoke openly about how their husbands were physically or emotionally abusive, with many stating that such behavior results from an increased level of tension due to poor living conditions and the current crisis in Syria.”
The conflict in Syria and the weight of the Syrian refugee crisis on neighboring countries has made many headlines, while the majority of displaced women continue to fight daily for survival and a future for their families. Their collective voices and powerful stories of resilience and resistance against all odds long to be recognized and remembered.
Being a witness to women supporting each other in displaced communities, in spite of their struggle for survival is what I hope to continue doing. This grant would enable me to return to this region and expand this work in neighboring countries Lebanon and Jordan.