RESPONDING TO SYRIA: REBUILDING WOMEN’S LIVELIHOODS AND LIVES “What we found was beyond belief. Women subjected to repeated and prolonged episodes of sexual assault and domestic violence, turning to self-harm as their only defence against their attackers. How can this be the life that awaits thousands of Syrian women refugees and Iraqi women IDPs who have already witnessed so much horror back home? The world must not fail Syria’s women. Now is the time to act.” Mandana Hendessi OBE, WfWI Regional Director for Europe, Middle East and Asia, on her findings from her recent visit to the KRI.
I. INTRODUCTION More than 210,000 Syrians have lost their lives and 11 million have fled homes in what the UN calls the greatest humanitarian crisis of our generation. Of the estimated 310,0001 Syrian refugees in Iraq, a staggering 215,0002 have fled to the relative safety of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), and this figure increases daily. Combined with the influx of nearly 830,0003 internally displaced people (IDPs), the KRI has seen a population increase of nearly 28%4, placing unsustainable strains on the resources of a host community that has extended its hand to those seeking refuge. A majority of refugees and IDPs are women and children, and despite the generosity of their host community, many women and girls are living in extreme fear and highly precarious situations. Not only forced to endure displacement-related trauma such as extreme poverty and coping with the loss of their homes and loved ones, those living in camp and non-camp environments face daily fears of violence and sexual abuse – both within and outside their homes. Women, who are among the most disadvantaged, have become responsible for protecting and providing for themselves and their children with next to nothing in hand. Yet, they bring enormous resilience to the task of survival and step courageously outside traditional roles to keep families afloat. With over 20 years’ experience in providing the poorest and most marginalised women in war-affected countries with the skills, knowledge and resources to improve their financial status and rebuild their lives, Women for Women International (WfWI) is embarking on a three-year project in the KRI to reach the most vulnerable Syrian and Iraqi women. Given the unique challenges facing women refugees and IDPs living in non-camp environments, WfWI will work in three host communities5 in the KRI, where extreme poverty and high exposure to sexual abuse and violence threatens women’s safety daily. Over the next three years, we will reach women with vital psychosocial support, social and economic empowerment training, and support to establish livelihoods. When combined with our work with male community leaders to reduce gender-based violence, these activities will help Syrian women refugees and Iraqi women IDPs to begin to envision a safer life for themselves and their families. WfWI is seeking £100,000 towards a project that will provide over 3,000 women with vital psychosocial support and livelihood opportunities, both of which have been found to be critical needs among this vulnerable population. We hope you will be inspired to partner with us in our efforts to respond to the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time. II. SITUATION OVERVIEW The sudden, and yet prolonged, influx of refugees and IDPs to the relatively small KRI has greatly impacted the region at a time of already challenging economic circumstances. As foreign investments decrease and the population increases, living standards in the KRI are dramatically deteriorating, leading to fewer jobs, lower wages, and increased poverty at an alarming rate6. Rising unemployment and soaring living costs in the KRI is particularly affecting Syrian refugees and Iraqi IDPs living in host communities (as opposed to refugee camps). With rent as high as $600 per month, nearly a third of households (over 50,000 people) cannot even afford basic items such as food, water, fuel and clothing7. Worryingly, 60% of Syrian refugees in non-camp environments are entirely dependent on savings, resorting to unsustainable coping strategies such as borrowing money or arranging the marriages of their daughters for the dowry or bride price when savings run dry.
UNHCR: Country Operations Profile, January 2015 UNHCR: Comparative analysis of Syrian Refugees, September 2014 3 Humanitarian Response: IDP Protection Strategy, KRI, December 2014. An estimated 830,000 of 1.9 million IDPs in Iraq are living in the KRI. 4 World Bank: Economic and Social Impact Assessment of the Syrian Conflict and ISIS Crisis in KRI, March 2015 5 In this context, host community refers to communities where refugees and IDPs are living in private accommodation, outside a refugee camp. 6 Fiscal transfers from Baghdad Central government to the KRI have reduced by 90 percent; the population has increased by 28 percent, and poverty in the KRI has increased from 3.5% to 8.1% in just one year. Source: World Bank, March 2015 7 UNHCR research found that 30% of those living in non-camp environments in the KRI cannot afford basic items, compared to 10% of those living in refugee camps in the KRI. Source: UNHCR: Comparative analysis of Syrian Refugees, September 2014 2
Whilst the KRI is generally a hospitable host, life remains extremely challenging for refugees and IDPs – especially women and girls. In addition to poverty and economic uncertainty, women and girls are continually threatened with sexual harassment, abuse and violence. Considered a ‘cheap commodity’ by some local men in the KRI, UN Women found that over 80% of refugees live in daily fear of abuse, and over two-thirds know someone who has been abused8. Not only subjected to humiliating and terrifying abuse in public, women and girls even report feeling unsafe in their own homes, with a significant increase in domestic violence, early and forced marriage, and temporary marriages, particularly amongst households where male relatives are unemployed and suffering from displacement-related stress9. On a recent visit to the KRI, WfWI Regional Director, Mandana Hendessi OBE, met several local organisations that expressed their grave concerns for the safety of women refugees and IDPs. Citing multiple examples of repeated and prolonged episodes of sexual assault and domestic violence, we have learned that some women are turning to extreme methods of self-harm to become less of a target. The all-encompassing fear present in both men and women is severely restricting women and girls, some of whom are prohibited from enrolling in school or even leaving their homes. The dangers facing women are so palpable and real that UN Women has issued urgent requests for humaniatrian agencies in the KRI to provide psychosocial support for traumatised women, as well as livelihood programmes for non-camp based women refugees in order to increase their incomes and reduce their vulnerabilities10. WfWI will work with local NGOs in the KRI to combine life-skills and business skills training with psycho-social support to enable women to develop coping mechanisms to overcome trauma, and giving them the confidence to make their own decisions – an essential first step in rebuilding their lives. We will also engage religious and community leaders to address the marginalisation of women, to begin changing attitudes towards women. We need your help to provide vital and urgent support to refugees and IDPs living in non-camp settings in Erbil, Slemani and Dohuk to do this.
UN Women research found 82% of Syrian refugees in the KRI lived in fear of abuse inside and outside home. When asked how they could feel safer: 30% of women believed if they could earn an income to relieve financial pressures; 16% said men’s behaviour needed to change; 14% said they would feel safer if their household needs were met. WfWI will support women to earn an income, provide life skills training, and engage men to reduce violence.
III. OUR RESPONSE Given the tremendous economic and psychosocial struggles facing Syrian women refugees and Iraqi women IDPs living within host communities in the KRI, WfWI will work with local partners in Erbil, Slemani and Dohuk to reach the most vulnerable women in need of support, as well as engage male relatives and communities leaders to recruit them as allies in women’s social and economic empowerment. We will target those suffering severe emotional trauma, at high risk of sexual and/or domestic violence, and living in extreme poverty. Activities will include: (1) Basic life skills, rights education and psycho-social support to Syrian women refugees and Iraqi women IDPs living in Erbil, Slemani and Dohuk to improve livelihoods and psychological health. Working alongside local partners, we will provide psychosocial support and dedicated training on social empowerment to 3,000 women over three years. Depending on the issues raised by women during a needs assessment, the life skills training could focus on a variety of social empowerment topics, for example how refugees and IDPs in host communities can protect their health and wellbeing, understand household finances, and understand their rights. Given the severe trauma experienced by many Syrian women refugees and Iraqi women IDPs, the project will provide psychosocial support to women in need. Ranging from intensive individual counselling to group sessions, traumatised women will learn how to create support networks to develop coping strategies. (2) Business and employment skills training for Syrian women refugees and Iraqi women IDPs living in Erbil, Slemani and Dohuk to establish new businesses or engage in paid employment. Women will also be trained in practical business skills to help them establish their own businesses or find paid employment. Business skills training will teach women to assess the market for potential business ideas, negotiation skills, contracts, cash flow and budgeting. We will also support women in developing robust business plans through one-to-one and group business counselling sessions, and will support women with a small start-up grant to seed her
UN Women: We just keep silent: Gender-based violence amongst Syrian refugees in the KRI, April 2014 Ibid 10 Ibid 9
business ideas. Employment counselling drop-in sessions will be available for those wanting to find paid employment, to advise on job applications, interviews and employer relations. (3) Training male community leaders and relatives of Syrian and Iraqi women living in Erbil, Slemani and Dohuk, to become active promoters of women’s rights and gender equality to reduce sexual and gender based violence. Since local male leaders have tremendous influence over the attitudes, thinking and behaviour of other men, the project will engage male relatives of our women participants as well as male community and religious leaders (such as sheikhs, imams and priests), to become allies and active promoters of women’s rights. Topics will include women’s value in the family and community; the psychological trauma caused by violence (including sexual violence and abuse); the dangers of early marriage; women’s right to choose a husband; and cultural and legal systems that protect women from violence, including access to justice. Based on previous results in Afghanistan, we believe that the changed attitudes of male leaders and community members will create a long-term impact in countering gender-based violence and promoting women’s rights.
A recently completed global programme evaluation found anecdotes of positive successes in our Men’s Engagement Programme in Afghanistan. Men in Nangarhar province that had completed the three-month men’s engagement activities reported “having enrolled their daughters in school as a direct result of the training, increasing their respect towards women, and decreasing violence towards women in their households. They also claimed they would no longer support forced marriages or the marriage of underage girls” Advisem Programme Evaluation of WfWI Country Programmes, March 2015
(4) Building the capacities of local partners in Erbil, Slemani and Dohuk to monitor progress, measure impact and document best practice. Local NGOs operating in the KRI are working in incredibly difficult and pressurised environments, responding to the vast influx of refugees and IDPs from neighbouring countries and regions; often with limited resources and personnel stretched to capacity. WfWI will share learning from our 20 years’ experience of operating in complex post-conflict environments, enabling local partners to continue reaching the most vulnerable women. Furthermore, we will conduct our own evaluation to cascade best practice and lessons learned to increase awareness of effective approaches to address the vast needs of women refugees and IDPs. We will bring together findings from all three locations, to show the wider significance of each local partner. By consolidating learning from multiple locations, we can make evidence-based policy recommendations, and communicate our learning to policy makers. We will use this vital information to engage the media in order to amplify the voices of Syrian and Iraqi women, to raise awareness of the ongoing crisis faced by women refugees and IDPs in the region. IV. FUNDING NEED This proposal sets out our view of the most effective way to engage with Syrian refugees and the Iraqi IDP crisis in the KRI. Our planning visit to the KRI in March 2015 highlighted several potential local NGOs that WfWI could partner with. After the careful selection of three local partners, WfWI will work with each to develop a robust set of activities and implementation plan. Following this, we will work with the local partner to determine the budget and final beneficiary numbers. We estimate that this three year project will support over 3,000 women and 3,000 men, and with costs expected to be in the region of £345,000 for the first year of operations, we are seeking an investment of £100,000 to begin this crucial work. V. CONCLUSION With over 20 years’ experience of working with the most marginalised women in post-conflict communities, WfWI can offer Syrian women refugees and Iraqi women IDPs a chance to rebuild their lives. We firmly believe that we will add the most value to the women we seek to reach by working with local partners who are already have a presence in the KRI and are tirelessly working for refugees and IDPs. We hope that you have been inspired by our approach and continue to share our sense of hope for women in the region. At September’s She Inspires Art event, we will be raising funds to begin our activities in the KRI. We need to raise at least £100,000 to begin operations, and would be extremely grateful if you would consider supporting us in reaching this target, so that we can walk alongside Syrian women refugees and Iraqi women IDPs as they navigate their way through an uncertain and daunting future. On behalf of the Syrian women refugees and Iraqi women IDPs, we would like to thank you for your support. For more information visit our website www.womenforwomen.org.uk or email Nicola firstname.lastname@example.org 3