Thursday,15 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1328, (19 - 25 January 2017)
Thursday,15 November, 2018
Issue 1328, (19 - 25 January 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Syrian women staying strong

On International Human Rights Day in December and to mark the 16 Days of Fighting Violence against Women Campaign, Mai Samih listened to the stories of Syrian women in Egypt who had fought violence on their pathway to success

Syrian women staying strong
Syrian women staying strong

Fleeing from the devastation in her homeland, Syrian fashion designer Amna Abdallah from the city of Hama came with her family to Egypt in December 2012. “I wanted to protect my children,” she said. “We came by air. Two of my daughters are married to Egyptians, so we stayed at first with them. But when it became clear that we would be here for a long time, we looked for additional help.”

“People I knew had registered with NGOs, and they encouraged me to register as well. We attended lectures and took part in activities. We learned skills aiming to empower us and took part in activities that were beneficial to us all,” she added.

Before she was forced out of her homeland, Amira Hararah, a housewife and the mother of three, worked as a hairdresser in Syria. She came with her family to Egypt. “At first, we had a hard time, and people gave us furniture to furnish our new home. Now we have adapted to our new situation. However, my children want to go back to Syria, but of course we have nowhere to go due to the circumstances in the country.”

“I went to the NGO CARE’s Maadi branch twice, although it is far from where I live in Nasr City. I have been living here for four years, but I didn’t really know anybody. But after I went to CARE I was introduced to many people. I am very thankful to this NGO,” she said.

“We stayed in Tanta first, and after our conditions improved we came to Cairo where we were led to CARE. I understood more than I expected to and learned a lot about life in Egypt and from each other. I also made new friends and learned new skills,” said the Syrian mother of four girls and one boy who chose to speak anonymously.  

All these women were talking about the help they had received at CARE and other NGOs in Egypt. On 10 December, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the “You Are More Important” Campaign in collaboration with CARE Egypt and the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA) marked a special 16-day programme in Cairo meant to combat all forms of violence against women.

Attending the event were many successful Syrian women living in Egypt, among them UNFPA programme manager Germeen Hadad, COMESSA operations manager and chair of the Egyptian Association of Business Women Amany Asfour, head of the Arab Female Anchors Union Asmaa Habashi, manager of Al-Bawaba News Ghada Abdel-Rehim, and singers Zab Tharwat and Maged Al Qassem. The event was also attended by Arab ambassadors in Egypt and founder of the “You Are More Important” Campaign Amr Hassan.  

“10 December is the last day of the 16 days of the Fighting Violence against Women Campaign. What makes it unique this year is that it is also the 16th year of this campaign. 10 December is also International Human Rights Day worldwide,” Hassan said.

“We were asked by UNFPA to organise a special day to focus on Syrian refugees living in Egypt and to combat violence,” he added. “With the help of CARE, we invited more than 80 successful Syrian women to the day. We asked them to choose three Syrian women who had participated in activities and had been successful in them, and we gave them the chance to talk about their activities” as a way of recognising their achievement.  

Hassan said that throughout the 16 days 16 celebrities had taken part in an online campaign to promote a woman’s right to live in a violence-free atmosphere. “The Syrian women attending the event are beautiful examples of women’s empowerment. Arab women are often strong, but the strongest are those who have turned challenges into opportunities like our Syrian sisters here at present,” Haddad said at the event.

“We are here to recognise three Syrian women who have worked hard to include those around them in their activities and use the skills they have learned here in Egypt. Our organisation gives women the opportunity to change their lives for the better,” she added, saying that another campaign, called Taa Marbouta (a letter in Arabic marking the female gender), was being organised in collaboration with the Egyptian National Council for Women.

“If we look at the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we find that they mean nothing unless they include women. Everyone knows that a family depends on the mother, the sisters and the daughters. In order to fight poverty effectively, women must be empowered economically by providing them with jobs,” Asfour commented at the event, adding that if there was no investment in women there could be no development.

“It is women who mostly work in agriculture, for example, in the Arab world. If the idea is to improve health, women’s health must receive special attention. Currently, far too many women still die when giving birth, for example, and FGM is sometimes still practiced against girls. In education there must be no discrimination against girls, and they should be educated like boys. There are still far too many misconceptions about empowering women. As long as a woman is strong, no one can break her,” she added.

“If women in our programmes have problems, we can help through our Websites,” Hassan said.

“Far too many women don’t take enough care of their health, even of regular check-ups like for high blood pressure. Many Arab women still treat their bodies like machines, thinking that if it seems to be working there is no problem, even when they should be checking important numbers like blood pressure, blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels to avoid health problems,” he added.

“I host an Egyptian TV show in which there is a special section for Syrian women,” Habashi said, adding that statistics had shown that violence against Syrian women in Egypt had been increasing. “Syrian women have shown that they can work with willpower and determination. Last week, we inaugurated the Arab Female Anchors Union in Syria, for example,” showing that female news anchors are able to do their work efficiently despite the pressures they face in their country.

“We have started a website called Bawabet Al-Arab which aims to promote development in the Arab countries and combat all forms of violence against Arab women,” said Abdel-Rehim. “If we do not produce strong women, we will produce a weak generation unable to build their countries. Syrian and Egyptian women should unite to develop the economy of Egypt, for example.”

She said 10 December every year would now be officially designated Egyptian-Syrian Day, in which Syrian-Egyptian bazaars with handmade products would be organised among other things.

“Syrian women have endured what no women should be expected to deal with over the past five years. Though the war has destroyed buildings and landscapes in Syria, it has not destroyed Syrian women, however. Syrian women in Egypt are working in tailoring and catering among other things to support their families,” commented Al Qassem.

“A week before this event, we organised a medical awareness campaign for Syrian women in Alexandria,” said Hassan, after a similar event in 6 October City targeting 1,000 women and children and including an entertainment session for children. The campaign also plans to visit Syrian refugee camps in other Arab countries.

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