Why I’m marching for refugee women this Sunday

Participants of CARE's committee groups meet to discuss local issues

Almost without fail, women are disproportionately affected by disasters all over the world. Still. They are often the last to eat in times of drought, they often lack the physical strength to escape natural disasters and they face sexual violence during conflicts. One in five refugee women or displaced women in complex humanitarian settings have experienced sexual violence.

This is why CARE pays special attention to women and girls: to ensure that they have the specific support that they need and that their daily requirements are taken into consideration when help is provided. This could mean providing them with items which help with maintaining privacy and dignity – clothes, hygiene and sanitary products, separate mattresses and blankets etc. as well as access to hot water and a safe place to sleep at night.

In response to the crisis devastating Syria, CARE is supporting refugees in many different countries including Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. I visit our projects in the northern city of Tripoli in Lebanon at least twice a year. There, CARE is working with families living in impoverished neighbourhoods. Syrian refugees, many of whom fled from Syria many years ago, are living in dangerously poor conditions, struggling to meet the rent and unable to work to support their children.

CARE Lebanon has been working tirelessly to engage the wider community in improving the living conditions for refugees as well as their neighbours. We’ve set up local committees who are given training on vital skills which can improve the safety, protection and well-being of members. This includes recognising incidents of violence against women and how to support survivors. Because of the economic pressures on families, many girls are being encouraged to marry at a very young age, or are not able to go to school. Women may be in situations where they cannot leave their homes for religious and cultural reasons, or cannot pay their the rent and are forced to revert to negative ways of coping with these challenges such as sending their children to beg in the street or putting themselves at risk of exploitation.

I visited once of these committees in a place called Mankoubin – which translates as ‘Neighbourhood of the Miserable’. I first came to this neighbourhood in 2015 when we were exploring how we could support poor urban neighbourhoods. Many of these residents are living on land which is owned by the government; do not have formal identification nor access to jobs. Houses are often one story with one or two rooms with corrugated iron roofs, water is available from wells nearby but is often contaminated.

Coming back to the area two years later and seeing the impact CARE’s work has had was an important moment for me both personally and professionally. Our project has not only improved the infrastructure in the area but the community itself are now a lot more vocal and engaged in development of their neighbourhood. The committees involve a mix of residents from the area, often with a majority of women and strong representation from Syrian refugees.

As we gathered together over cups of strong Lebanese coffee to hear some feedback on the projects, a Syrian lady called Amira told me:

These sessions on early marriage are so important for me and this community. I was married at 14 and do not want the same for my daughters, I really valued the fact it was an open discussion with both men and women.

Traditionally, these women may have only spent time with their families, not often engaging in public life. But, here, they have a say in what happens in their neighbourhood, are able to speak out and be listened too. It’s a way for them to influence what support is given - such a providing street lights or installing secure doors on buildings.

Another middle-aged man called Tarek explained with delight how he was learning new skills: “I was so proud to be able to teach and support my daughter on how to breast feed her first child, this is not a chance many men have”. Nour, an elderly Lebanese lady explained how the upgrading work to her house was one of the best things that had happened to her since the project began, she beamed at me:

I now have a permanent wooden door for the first time in 30 years!

I was overwhelmed to hear these stories and inspired by the strength and resilience of people who’ve experienced such horrifying things. I am proud to have been involved in this and projects like it which support and empower women who’ve fled violence and upheaval. That’s why we should all #March4Women this Sunday - to shine a spotlight on the inequality women and girls face around the world.

Amelia Rule is an Emergency Shelter Advisor for CARE International UK 

To find out more and register for the event on 5th March visit www.careinternational.org.uk/March4Women

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.