Two New CARE Reports Examine Resilience and Changing Gender Norms Among Syrians
New York (February 26, 2020) – Nearly nine years of conflict have brought about sweeping and protracted changes in the lives of Syrian people. Syrians are adapting to a ‘new normal’ as it relates to new livelihood strategies, new ways of accessing education, and new gender roles. Syrian women, both inside Syria and who are refugees in neighboring countries, have entered the workforce in much larger numbers, and are doing jobs often seen as being only for men, according to two new CARE reports entitled, “Understanding Resilience” and “Syrian Refugee Women’s Roles”.
“The death, injury, disappearance, and displacement of Syrian men has forced many women to adapt their traditional roles. Syrian women have had to learn new skills, forge new social networks, and change the way they perceive their own roles, and rights. They now have more power, decision making authority, and, importantly, a voice,” says Nirvana Shawky, Regional Director for CARE in the Middle East and North Africa.
“As we begin to start contemplating a post-conflict Syria, it is absolutely crucial that women are at the front and center of efforts to build a sustainable peace. The evidence clearly shows that when women are not front and center of such efforts, there can be no sustainable peace. But as the report shows, ensuring women’s participation even at the community level will not be an easy trajectory,” says Ambassador James Roscoe, Head of Open Societies and Partnerships at the UK Mission to the UN.
CARE’s 2020 “Understanding Resilience” and “Syrian Refugee Women’s Roles” studies similarly found that women are taking on roles they simply did not have before: roughly 72% of respondents of the study in Syria and 83% of women in the refugee study indicated having had at least one new livelihood strategy since the start of the conflict.
“Syrian women have shown a strong willingness and ability to adapt to the realities of their new situation. Their newfound confidence, strength, and sense of competency must be recognized and reinforced. More than ever, it is critical that we provide Syrian women with our collective support, as they overcome severe hardship. They are the key to their country’s future,” says Shawky.
“Understanding Resilience: Perspectives from Syrians” identifies social capital as the most critical and consistently cited source of support from families and individuals facing conflict-related shocks and disruptions to their lives. Social networks are an indispensable safety net. In the midst of active conflict, people relied on one another to absorb shocks, stay safe and survive. People who have strong social networks in a location that they have been displaced to are more likely to effectively adapt to that new location.
In “Syrian Refugee Women’s Roles”, many women report increased confidence and influence in family decision making, as both “the breadwinner” and “mother and father”. This has also brought about new feelings of empowerment and independence, and has changed some views on marriage and degree of agency they have in making decisions about their relationships. But this dual role also brings stress and exhaustion, as women fulfil both the role of full-time breadwinner, as well as primary caregiver and homemaker. This has compounded the psycho-social stress associated with nine years of conflict and for many, repeated displacement.
On the other hand, some women interviewed indicated a desire to return to the traditional role they had always imagined for themselves. While change was necessary for survival, there continue to be many pressures from both family and community for women to return to more traditional roles.
The studies also found that many women both inside and outside Syria reported that they found the change in their roles difficult, but positive, indicating that they were mostly happy to have the opportunities to work and earn income for themselves, despite the ensuing intense pressures. Working and contributing income has vastly increased the confidence of many women and their belief in their own abilities. Overwhelmingly, these women have a new found sense of confidence, competence, and empowerment that needs support, whether it is exhibited in women as leaders outside the home, or as strong, confident women inside the home.
Links to CARE's reports and a policy briefing are attached to this update.