After 13 years in Conflict & Displacement, Syrian Women & Girls Must not be Forgotten — Global Issues

  • Opinion by Laila Baker (cairo, egypt)
  • Inter Press Service

Shatha’s story is not isolated but echoes the harrowing experiences of many Syrian women and girls over the past 13 years. In late 2023, Shatha’s hometown of Deir-ez-Zor became one of the epicentres of the most significant escalation of hostilities in Syria since 2019, which displaced over 120,000 people and affected numerous health facilities, schools, water systems, and other crucial infrastructures.

This was mere months after the devastating earthquake that struck the country’s north-west in February, causing incalculable destruction and impacting nearly 9 million people.

As the Arab region — and indeed the world at large — appears to sink ever deeper into the clutches of armed conflict and humanitarian disasters, it’s crucial to remember the profound impact that the Syria crisis in particular has had on women and girls, who are often the hardest hit during such emergencies.

Since the onset of hostilities in 2011, the situation has escalated to unprecedented levels, with 16.7 million people requiring humanitarian assistance throughout the country. Among them, more than 8 million are women and girls, facing not only the loss of their homes and loved ones but also the erasure of their futures and dreams.

In addition to experiencing ever-growing difficulties in accessing basic services, particularly essential sexual and reproductive health care, the stories from within Syria and among refugee communities throughout the region tell of a distressing normalization of gender-based violence.

Women and girls report spiralling risks of harassment, intimate partner violence, forced and child marriages, conflict-related sexual violence, and other forms of exploitation, now compounded by the proliferation of technology-facilitated abuses.

These are not merely fleeting narratives but reflections of deeper inequalities that are becoming entrenched aspects of post-war Syrian society, fuelled by economic collapse and the disintegration of social and protection networks.

More importantly, the worsening needs of Syrians are a cautionary tale, unfolding against a backdrop of multiplying armed conflicts and humanitarian crises across the globe, from Gaza, Sudan, Yemen, and Lebanon in the region, to the catastrophic and far-reaching war in Ukraine, each demanding urgent attention and significant resources.

This expanding landscape of human misery has strained the already limited humanitarian funding, overshadowing the needs in Syria and diminishing the support for its most vulnerable populations.

The underfunding of the humanitarian response in Syria, particularly services aimed at women and girls, is already being felt by numerous communities. Essential health facilities providing life-saving reproductive healthcare are at risk of imminent closure. Women and girls’ safe spaces, critical for survivors of gender-based violence, are shutting down, leaving them with neither refuge nor support.

The ripple effects of such underfunding also threaten to reverse any progress made towards gender equality and women’s empowerment, undermining societal development and stability at large. A telling example of this is a draft of a so-called “morality law” currently being circulated by the de facto ruling authorities in north-west Syria.

In addition to severely curtailing and criminalising basic human rights, the law essentially codifies male supremacy, significantly preventing women and girls from freely engaging in public and cultural life, manifesting their opinions and religion in public places, or seeking employment or professional training.

Despite these challenges, the resilience shown by Syrian women and girls is nothing short of extraordinary. Many have risen above their circumstances, becoming community leaders, activists, and entrepreneurs, striving for a better future for themselves and their communities. Their unyielding spirit underlines the importance of not just meeting immediate needs but also investing in their long-term well-being and empowerment.

As we reflect on the ongoing crisis, it is imperative to put people before politics. The international community must not allow Syrian women and girls to be forgotten amidst the political deadlock and the shifting priorities of global aid.

Their health, safety, and dignity demand our immediate and unwavering support. We must ensure that the humanitarian response is fully funded, not only to meet the urgent needs but also to invest in building a more resilient Syria.

After 13 years, it’s time for the international community to renew its commitment to Syrian women and girls, ensuring they have the support they need to navigate the challenges they face today and in the future.

While their strength and resilience inspire us, they should not have to face the darkness alone. Let us stand with them, ensuring they are not forgotten but supported to rebuild their lives and communities.

Laila Baker is the Regional Director for Arab States of UNFPA, the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency.

IPS UN Bureau

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© Inter Press Service (2024) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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