How women in Syria are developing new skills to support themselves and their families through crisis


08 March 2024


The 13 year conflict in Syria continues to stifle life across the country: the majority of the population require humanitarian assistance, 90% of families live in poverty and over 12 million people have been displaced from their homes. All these people have a story to tell: a home they left behind, family members they lost, livelihoods they lost, persisting hardships they continue to battle, and lives which they cannot return to.

For women in some parts of Syria, the conflict has not only entrenched pre-existing social norms but also created new stigmas, especially for widowed, divorced or displaced women. Violence against women and girls has become more common in many communities. As the economic situation deteriorates, child, early and forced marriage – especially for girls – has become a more widespread negative coping mechanism. The crisis has also made it harder for women to meet their most basic needs, like access to food and healthcare.

Building resilience and rebuilding lives

The Syria Resilience Initiative works alongside Syrians to rebuild their lives and their livelihoods; find innovative ways to overcome the challenges they face; and foster more inclusive and supportive communities. Through the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s Building Local Resilience in Syria (BLRS) programme, the Initiative provides training to support women with vocational skills to start their own businesses and help meet their and their families’ needs. Through the trainings, not only are women gaining technical and business skills, they are also building their confidence and forging new friendships along the way.

Ashwaq's story

Ashway, Syria - cropped

Image: Ashwaq mixing bakery ingredients at home

This International Women’s Day, we hear from Ashwaq, 21, who recently took part in the BLRS bakery training programme. She currently lives with her husband, daughter and in-laws.

Before the crisis, Ashwaq's family lived in comfort. But when her father passed away, they lost the main breadwinner of the family and were forced to send the family's young brothers to work in Lebanon.

Ashwaq’s husband, who is a teacher, is now the main breadwinner of the family. However, his salary – roughly £61 per month - hardly covers the family’s expenses and they often struggle to make ends meet. To make matters harder, Ashwaq’s mother-in-law suffers from multiple health conditions, further straining their finances. When Ashwaq heard about the BLRS bakery training programme which was taking place in her village, it seemed like the opportunity she needed to support her family.

Ashwaq - bakery in Syria

Image: Delicious bread and pastries baked on Ashwaq's training programme

The 12 days of training offered Ashwaq the skills to make bread and pastry products at home. The training also included project management and life skills that aim to support participants in taking steps towards starting their own businesses.

Ashwaq says:

''I now have a goal and I feel valued within the family. My family are encouraging me to achieve my goals, especially my mother-in-law who is one of my biggest supporters. Now, I am also trying to finish my studies at the Faculty of Law in Al-Hasakah.’’

As part of the programme, each trainee also received a cash grant to cover costs for setting up their business.

“I want to start my own project, which will be making pastries and sweets at home, and I hope that if the demand for my products increases, I will have a special place to work in.''

For Ashwaq, one of the greatest benefits of taking part in the training has been the newfound confidence that learning new skills has given her.

“After attending the training, I gained new skills in communication and marketing, and I started working at home,” added Ashwaq. “The first product I sold was a kleija (a date filled biscuit), and I made a good profit.

I became more confident in myself and my abilities to manage my own project, including the ability to organise my time, solve problems and negotiate.’’

A crucial step towards stability

Through the Syria Resilience Initiative, the BLRS training programme supports women like Ashwaq to develop the skills to generate new, sustainable forms of income. For women whose lives have been upturned over the last 13 years, these income sources are a crucial step towards greater stability, both for themselves and their families.

Find out how the Syria Resilience Initative is also helping farmers in Syria to adapt their farming practices to the impacts of climate change here.

Find out more about CARE's programmes in Syria

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