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“Up to the top”: meet the Syrian Women’s Committee in Reyhanli

Yazı, 21 Şubat 2017

Photo:© UNHCR / S. Bergamaschi
REYHANLI, Turkey (UNHCR) – Two years ago in Reyhanli, a small border town in southeastern Turkey, six Syrian women established a committee with the goal of creating a female empowerment network for refugee women.

Besides providing Turkish and English language as well as computer literacy classes, the committee educates women on their rights in Turkey and offers advice on steps to take if those rights are violated. They also offer awareness-raising programs to educate the communities about the consequences of early marriages and gender-based violence. Through their work they promote an increased participation of women in the society alongside men, whom they see as partners and allies.

A focus on a better way

Bousseina, the founder and leader of the committee, said “The work with the committee gives me strength, courage and motivation every day. The encounter with the women makes me forget the sadness over the separation and break-down of my family after the start of the conflict.”. Her five children are scattered between Europe and Turkey and her husband is in Syria.

Bousseina, 48, is a charismatic English literature major from Aleppo University. Other founding members include Haifa, Jihan and Amja’, all university graduates who are trying to do their best to rebuild their lives in Turkey. They explain that the knowledge they acquired through training provided by UNHCR is crucial to their daily counseling tasks. Tayba Sharif, head of Protection in UNHCR Sub-Office in Gaziantep, explained the kind of support UNHCR offers to the committee. “UNHCR helps the women accessing legal and medical follow-ups provided by government institutions or the humanitarian community,” she said.

The work with the women’s group was crucial for Jihan as she was able to gain back faith in life. While looking at the Committee’s logo, she explained that the small child in the sun light represents the person, who will one day rebuild Syria, whereas the butterfly in the hair of the woman symbolizes the wish of achieving full freedom.

No end to the challenges

“Ultimately, it’s about creating the conditions that will make us hope for a brighter future,” Haifa observed, while posting on the committee’s Facebook and WhatsApp groups. The committee is very technology-savvy and uses these social media platforms to improve their awareness-raising strategy among community members.

“Our motto is ‘Up To The Top’: even in challenging times we keep our heads up high,” Haifa said. “Many women are alone here with children and they have to do twice the day’s work to provide for them. We must and want to be there for them.”

One of the group’s primary concerns is to prevent early marriages. During their awareness-raising sessions the committee invites religious leaders and psychologists who expose the serious negative impacts of this practice.

By marrying at a very young age, girls and boys, Bousseina says, have very often a limited access to education and skill building opportunities, resulting in illiteracy, dependency and poverty due to exclusion from the socio-economic life. The committee is also working on sexual and gender based violence including domestic abuse.

“It is important to understand” Amja’ explained, “that prevention strategies must encourage men and boys to think about why such violence is accepted.” The participation of men and boys in the committee’s trainings can produce positive changes in their attitudes and behaviors regarding violence by allowing time for reflection and discussion.

“We bring together fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, because it is crucial to work with men as partners and allies”. Haifa said and then paused, smiling for a moment. “This is going to be one of the most crucial messages we have to get across”, she reflected.