As decision makers meet in Brussels to discuss the situation of Syrian refugees, Aisha Shtiwi shares the story of Ghozlan, one of millions of women refugees who can’t access work.
“Our suffering started when we arrived. I went to every single place to find work in the camp, but no one hired me”, said Ghozlan, a young Syrian woman we met recently on a visit to Za’atari refugee camp.
Over 5.6 million Syrians have been forced to flee
As the international community and key decision makers gather in Brussels to discuss the response to the Syria crisis, many refugees in Jordan are still waiting for solutions that the conference promises to bring.
The war in Syria has entered its eighth year, and more than 5.6 million Syrian refugees have been forced to flee to neighbouring countries in search of safety. They face a number of restrictions, including limited work opportunities or options to support their families. Jordan provides a safe haven for close to 660,000 Syrians registered as refugees with UNHCR across the country.
Women face even more challenges. Ghozlan fled Eastern Ghouta to Jordan’s Za’atari camp five years ago. Her status as a refugee makes it impossible for her to travel to Brussels to share her challenges and experiences face to face. She spoke passionately to Oxfam, hoping that her concerns will be heard and addressed at the conference. If Jordan receives the right support from the international community then livelihood opportunities can be broadened. Ghozlan might see the barriers to decent work removed.
Women refugees are doubly disadvantaged
Ghozlan is unable to register a business or work in any profession other than in agriculture, construction or manufacturing. As a woman, she confronts harassment and social norms which dictate that her role is solely in the homeLike millions of others, as a refugee Ghozlan is unable to register a business or work in any profession other than in agriculture, construction or manufacturing. As a woman, she confronts harassment and social norms which dictate that her role is solely in the home. She hopes to one day start a family, but struggles to see how she would provide for them adequately.
A number of projects have been developed by different aid agencies for the 80,000 refugees living in Za’atari camp, in what’s known as ‘cash for work’ schemes (for example a camp recycling project set up by Oxfam). However, this is only a temporary fix to a crisis with no end in sight. While ‘cash for work’ provides relief to some refugees, in large part it is low paying, impermanent, and exists outside of the mainstream Jordanian economy.
Based on the social and economic dynamics of the camp, men are still selected for more jobs than women, and less than one-third of cash for work positions go to women. In response, Oxfam designed programs to specifically meet the needs of women including the development of in-camp greenhouses and an upcyling project which turns old tents into bags while developing sewing skills.
“Men are the ones who get the [leave] permits,” Ghozlan told Oxfam, “…they control everything in the camp. Everything is for men. Jobs inside the camp – for men. Outside – for men”.
The system of permits and regulations in Jordan creates many barriers
With camp rules and regulations, as they exist, aid agencies struggle to set up any new work opportunities, particularly for womenRefugees in Za’atari camp are not allowed to leave without a permit, which needs to be renewed every two weeks. Some Syrian women in Za’atari have obtained work permits which allow them to work outside on neighbouring farms or in garment factories. But for many, working outside the camp is not an option. Often male family members prohibit their wives, daughters and sisters from working at all.
“It is much better to find jobs in the camp, it is safer and closer to our houses,” said Ghozlan. “I am afraid to work outside the camp. It is not safe outside and you never know what could happen.” She added, “Everything is outside. Why don’t they create things in the camp, where I can work and get by.” With camp rules and regulations, as they exist, aid agencies struggle to set up any new work opportunities, particularly for women. There is an urgent need to ease restrictions on refugee movement into and out the camp, including trading access, in order to help create more opportunities to start businesses or paid work.
New opportunities are needed for both Syrian and Jordanian women
Women’s economic participation in Jordan is generally low, ranked 133rd out of 144 by the World Economic Forum’s gender gap analysis. Barriers that prevent both Syrian and Jordanian women from entering the labour market are many, including lack of childcare, a lack of affordable and safe transportation, household responsibilities, and socio-cultural norms. For Syrian refugee women, the challenges are even greater. Syrian women have obtained only 4 percent of the total permits issued to refugees nationwide in Jordan.
The Brussels Conference can provide renewed momentum to turn the crisis into a transformative opportunity for Syrian women. This is essential, not only for their lives in Jordan, but also if there comes a time in the future when it is safe to return and begin the process of rebuilding Syria.
A special thanks to Soman Moodley and Alixandra Buck for their support in the creation of this post.