The Syrian civil war began in 2011, sparked by the Arab Spring revolutions. Half the population has been displaced since the war began, and according to the United Nations Human Rights Campaign, 4,088,078 refugees have sought or are actively seeking safety around the world. One large problem that Syrian nationals are facing is the lack of media attention and humanitarian action to help their plight – a problem with no face on it.
Recently, more media outlets are paying attention. A shocking image of a child washed up on shore prompted more to look deeper into the situation. Some countries are temporarily providing refugees with shelter, and some also provide monetary aid. Some are more outspoken about their points of view. For example, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters recently stated in regards to taking in refugees, “Let’s bring the women and children and tell some of the men to go back and fight for their own country’s freedom, like we are.”
The lack of reporting on the conditions Syrian nationals are facing probably fuels the thoughts of some like Peters. There are some campaigns that can help educate others on the crisis going on, to get a better picture of who is suffering and why they need aid. Four out of five displaced Syrians are women or children. The food coupons that they may receive from aid efforts only cover basic food staples and do not provide for sanitary napkins. In some countries, they may face sexual exploitation by criminals taking advantage of their vulnerable state as refugees.
The crisis in Syria also uproots the ongoing push for greater gender equality in the country. Women hold few seats in their Parliament and participate at a lesser rate in their working force than males do. Syria’s online feminist movement, Estayqazat, pushes women to accept and become more comfortable with their bodies and sexuality. Another feminism movement convinces families to avoid child marriages on account of how it can mentally and physically damage their daughters, which is an especially daunting task, given the conditions that ISIS places the region in.
Other groups work within the context of displaced refugee settlements. Many groups have formed a place for Syrian women and children to study and gain job skills, both in and out of the country, or to get shelter and food and reduce the risk of having to rely on sex work in order to survive. Women are providing humanitarian aid in place of the Syrian government, who would ordinarily administer vaccinations or unobstructed justice in court, for example.
Journalists and filmmakers have come to the region to also show off the strength and resilience of Syrian women during the crisis. Filmmaker Aliya Naumoff’s documentary showed an attitude of perseverance present among many Syrian women, to continue fighting to become independent and strong even in the context of displacement and poverty. One refugee said in the film, “We are proud to appear on camera to show the world that the Syrian woman, despite all she has been through, did not and will not crumble.” Media should really give women the opportunity to contextualize what they have been through and what they would like to do.
Cover image courtesy of Vos Iz Neias.