Supporting refugees and actors for peace
Terrified by the advance of ISIS in Hama, Syria, 48-year-old Sawsan sold her business, told her husband good-bye, and fled with her daughter. Conflict coupled with blatant gender-based violence left them little choice but to join almost 5 million Syrians who had fled their country by early 2016. Despite the fact that half of all Syrian refugees are women, most could expect little in the way of humanitarian assistance for needs distinct from those of men.
A UN Women assessment conducted in Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia broke down different issues by gender to make these gaps visible and galvanize a response. The study compellingly documented the harm caused when women go without services for health care and protection against gender-based violence, among other core concerns.
In Jordan’s largest refugee camp, Za’atari, UN Women has taken action by providing services for women’s economic empowerment and protection. Three “Oasis” safe spaces receive 5,000 visitors a month who come to socialize and learn new skills. Cash-for-work opportunities include tailoring school uniforms, teaching and working as security guards. With many refugees now confined to the camp for over three years, the centres provide a rare break from despair and isolation while also providing the chance to earn an income to meet basic household expenses.
While UN Women responds to the immediate needs of women fleeing from Syria, we also push for their inclusion in ongoing peace negotiations. For the peace talks held under the aegis of the United Nations in early 2016, we helped create the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board. Encompassing 12 independent members of women’s civil society organizations, it was formally included in the talks for the first time, charged with raising missing issues, providing solutions and brokering consensus positions on topics related to gender equality and beyond. As the quest to negotiate a peace agreement continues, the Advisory Board recognizes, in unequivocal terms, that whatever direction the negotiations take, women must be heard.