“This is My Burden to Bear” - Women’s Voices from Post-earthquake SyriaPublished: Mar 7, 2023 Reading time: 4 minutes
International Women’s Day, commemorated every year on the 8th of March, marks women’s achievements and spurs us all to focus greater attention on women’s rights and gender equality. But across northwest Syria, the mood is sombre.
Of the region’s 4.6 million inhabitants, 60% are internally displaced, the majority of whom are women and children. The recent earthquake worsened an already dire situation for women in northwest Syria, who at the best of times have restricted access to employment and livelihood opportunities. In many cases, widows struggle to provide for their children where their husband, the traditional breadwinner in more conservative Syrian communities, has been killed as a result of the years-long conflict.
Even before the earthquake, People in Need (PIN) provided aid for thousands of people across northwest Syria using funds from the European Union. Through the distribution of electronic cash transfer vouchers, PIN supported displaced women, which has continued after the quake in response to their growing vulnerabilities after the disaster.
“I am receiving vouchers from People in Need that enable my family to meet some of our needs. Our needs are great and have increased a lot since the earthquake,” said Amina, a widow and mother of five who lives in Idleb in northwest Syria, “It was the most horrific thing I have experienced. Month by month, conditions are getting more and more difficult.”
Amina’s husband was killed in an airstrike, and her daughter and son-in-law were forced to flee their already war-damaged home after the earthquake. Having nowhere else to turn, Amina took her daughter and her family in, borrowing money from friends so she could feed them. “It’s a tragic situation, but this is my burden to bear,” she said.
Through 12 years of unending conflict in Syria, women like Amina have shouldered the onerous burden of supporting their families through trauma few can imagine. Fadila, also from rural Idleb, recalled the moment a warplane bombed her neighbourhood. Seconds after, she ran into the street to bring all the women and children she could into her home to offer them shelter. Stories of airstrikes and earthquakes, of fear and tragedy, are eerily similar. Even the destruction is difficult to discern – Fadila gestured to the earthquake damage outside her house that may as well have been from an airstrike or shelling.
For Syrian women, their strength has kept their families together, but the task is a tiresome one. Recovery after the earthquake will be difficult, as strict gender roles limit women’s options for employment in an already overcrowded job market. Of the entire workforce in Syria, a little over a quarter are women.
“After my husband died, I had to take charge of my family and provide for them, so I took a job in food processing,” said Fadila, “But it hasn’t been very lucrative in the last two years due to high prices and low income. In the past, my home was more like a vegetable market, but now things are desperate.”
Last year, Fadila began receiving cash grants from PIN which continued in the aftermath of the earthquake. “It is a great project and it helped us so much. I can buy all the food we need and I can even give some to my son. I used the first cash grant to buy diesel for heating,” she said, “Had we not received this support, I would have only been able to heat my home when it is very cold.” Basic needs, such as food, shelter, and fuel, are priorities for families who have lost their homes in the quake.
More than one month has passed since the earthquake, and the road to recovery will be arduous for Syrian women who have already endured so much. Thousands of women across northwest Syria are now the main breadwinners for their families, and can benefit from cash grants to help them fulfill this role. To this end, PIN will continue to support those in need using funding from the European Union, through its regular cash distributions as well as a cash-for-shelter project that will enable families to repair minor damage to their homes sustained during the earthquake.