Are We Listening?

Syrian women are asking us to hear their voices – and take action.

Photos by Meredith Hutchison

For the millions of women and girls whose lives have been uprooted by the more than three-year-old Syrian crisis, daily life is an exhausting struggle – from searching for clean water and food for their families, to navigating foreign cities or refugee camps while trying to stay safe and avoid harassment, to grappling with threats of domestic violence in their own homes.

Drawing on interactions with thousands of women and girls in the region, the International Rescue Committee has published a report shedding light on the challenges facing displaced Syrian women and girls, as expressed in their own words. The question is…are we listening? Are we listening to what they have to say – and are we responding to their words with action?


Read our full report about the status of Syrian women



This feature is based on our report and on the personal stories women and girls have shared with us. It invites you to walk through a typical day for a Syrian woman so you may better understand how the crisis affects women and girls, and can help to spread their voices.

You are a Syrian mother of three. You fled your hometown of Daraa in southwestern Syria with your family in late 2013. You now live with your husband and three children in a cramped, two-room apartment in a city in Jordan.

Wake Up

Your daughter rolls over in bed, shifting the mattress, and you are immediately awake. Before you fled Syria, your family survived six months of frequent shelling and bombing. Now, any tremor is enough to hurl you out of bed and onto your feet.

Wake Up Photo
Wake Up Photo

Of the more than 3 million Syrians who have fled the country for Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq or Turkey...

4 out of 5 are women or children
4 out of 5 are women or children
30% live in camps. 70% live outside camps, in urban or rural settings
30% live in camps
70% live outside camps, in urban or rural settings

Get The Kids to School

You rustle awake your daughter and two sons. Your daughter drags in a bucket of water from outside, and you help them each wash their faces and get ready. Every day as your children begin the walk to school, you nervously watch them through the window. You worry about them, especially your daughter. Even though she never goes anywhere without you or her brothers, she is still harassed on the street.

Navigate The City

You wait for your sister-in-law to come over so you can walk together to the supermarket. You are afraid of going out on your own and your husband has forbidden you to leave the house by yourself, having heard stories of women being attacked. Before going anywhere, you have to wait until a relative is available to go with you.

Your sister-in-law arrives, and you make your way to the market. As you weave through the streets, men call and leer at you. It makes you feel degraded.

Navigate the City
Navigate the City
Walking to school, the store, the latrine, or anywhere else exposes women and girls to threats of harassment and assault. 60% 
of women expressed feelings of insecurity. 1 in 3women stated that they felt too scared or overwhelmed to leave their homes at all.

Buy Groceries

At the store, you wander down aisles marked for Syrians. The coupons you receive for food can only be used on specific items. Even though you need sanitary pads and deodorant, you can’t use your coupons on these items, and you don’t have the money to buy them outright.

Buy Grocieries
Buy Grocieries

The orange sign shows products that cannot be purchased with coupons.

Cope With Family Stresses

When you arrive back home, your husband is sitting outside and smoking. You don’t speak to one another as you enter the apartment. In Syria, you had a loving relationship. But the stress of living in a foreign place, struggling to meet even basic necessities, and being trapped together indoors has weighed on your marriage.

As you start to make dinner, your husband begins arguing that it is time your daughter, who is now 15, leaves school and is married. You reply that you don’t think she is physically or mentally mature enough; that being married this young will be dangerous for her. “But I can’t find a job, we can’t afford to feed all our children, and we could use the dowry to catch up on the rent payments,” your husband insists. “Her husband could better protect her from being attacked on the street.” You both yell back and forth until he storms out of the apartment.

Cope With Family Stresses
Cope With Family Stresses

Find Support

In the early evening, you and a friend walk to a center tucked away in a quiet part of the city that is just for women and girls. There you meet four more friends and spend time together laughing and chatting about your lives – it is the only time of day you have just for yourself. You see a counselor for 30 minutes who gives you advice on ways to manage some of your stress.

Knowing that you are not alone, and that you have these women to support you as they struggle with the same issues, helps sustain you as you walk home, crawl into bed, and think about and face tomorrow.


Syrian women and girls have shared their experiences with us…are we listening? Make sure their voices are heard.

We ask for humanity -- Nada, Syrian Refugee
I want my voice to be heard everywhere -- Zaeemah, Syrian Refugee

“Women rock the cradles with their right hand and the world with their left.”
— Syrian saying

“Syrian women are smart. Things have changed and now they are the providers of the household. They are tired, they struggle, but they are a pillar.”

— Woman in Zaatari Camp

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The IRC’s Work in the Region

As of June 2014, the IRC had over 1,000 staff and volunteers serving close to 4 million beneficiaries in the region. This group includes refugees living in Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, and Turkey, those displaced within Syria, those displaced in Iraq due to the latest crisis, as well as host communities within each of these countries.

Read our full report on the violence and obstacles facing Syrian women and girls affected by the conflict and our recommendations for responding to their words with action.