She is a humanitarian: Women working with Syrian refugees

Nine women working with Syrian refugees tell us what inspired them to challenge sexism and discrimination – and how they are leading the way for women’s empowerment in Jordan, the region, and beyond.

Asma Abdullah

Asma Abdullah is a Self-Development and Skills-Building Officer at Azraq refugee camp in Jordan.

“In April 2014, I welcomed the first family that entered Azraq camp, and helped them settle in.

“Now at CARE my job focuses on psychosocial activities with women, girls, men, and boys living in Azraq refugee camp. This includes peer-to-peer support groups, anger and stress management, in addition to capacity-building sessions that help people cope with their new circumstances as refugees living in the camp, and better prepare them for the future.

“Despite the tough nature of working in the camp, every day I remain motivated.

Although working with vulnerable refugees can take a toll on me at times, especially with the stories of flight and displacement, I feel that every day someone will need my support. We need to be strong.

“Today, women are able to do much more than in the past. There are times I provide sessions and I realise I’m the only female in the hall.

“However, we still need to prove, to programme participants and to our society, the essential role that female aid workers have, and the added value women bring to the humanitarian sector.

We as women will be able to break stereotypes around women’s roles and responsibilities through the outcomes and value of our work.”

Rawan al-A’war

Rawan al-A’war is a Jordanian outreach volunteer with CARE at Azraq camp.

“My role as a volunteer at CARE involves visiting Syrian refugee shelters to learn about their needs, and either address them directly or refer them to peer organisations. CARE acts as a hub, connecting all organisations directly with refugees. I act as that mediator. When I listen to people’s stories sometimes I feel upset because of their tough circumstances. Knowing how they suffered affects me.

“We live in a community that has certain barriers against females working in this field, especially when there are days we only return home after dark. But to break these barriers we need to raise societal awareness of the importance of working women, including in the humanitarian sector. I encourage every girl and woman who wants to act on her humanitarian motivation to help people, to get involved in this sector. There are many people in the world today who need help.”

Arwa al-Hadeed

Arwa al-Hadeed is a Case Management and Community Mobilisation Officer at Azraq camp.

“When I told my family that I wanted to work in Azraq camp they were worried about the changes I would face – the distance, the long hours, the nature of the camp. But they were supportive of my decision nonetheless.

“The obstacles, however, are present. For instance, because I’m a female, camp regulations require me to conduct field visits accompanied by a male colleague – due to the conservative nature of the community living in the camp – whereas he can do his visits on his own. For me, as a woman, I believe I can handle the same amount of pressure as a man. I can accomplish the same work and get the job done just as well.

“Sometimes women’s main obstacles are women. For those who are raised with certain stereotypes imposed upon them, they may believe that women were only created for cooking, cleaning, and raising children.

“These challenges can be overcome by increasing the awareness of the community we are serving and helping change mindsets toward gender roles. Women also need more opportunities, for Syrian refugees, but on a larger scale, too.”

Dima al-Karadsheh

Dima al-Karadsheh is CARE’s Regional Gender and Gender-Based Violence Protection Advisor.

“Many people, especially women, accept persecution without realising they are being persecuted. When I realised this earlier in my life I decided to stand up for women and help counter their persecution.

“It is very important today to continue countering the violence that women are subject to. Violence against women is not an individual problem, it is a phenomenon that affects the entire society.

“My job at CARE is to ensure the integration of gender in CARE’s programming around the Middle East and North Africa region, whether through staff training on gender tools and sensitivities, the inclusion of humanitarian standards, or ensuring that our programmes include the basics of protection tools.

“There is still a perception in our region that gender is a luxurious concept. There is still the false fear that enhancing women’s rights and empowering women means ‘wrecking homes’.

“For real change in stereotypes to occur, we need to change perceptions among our programme participants and their communities. It is important to ensure that they feel safe and to build their trust in us, women and men alike.

“I encourage any woman who wants to work in the humanitarian sector to take this step, and particularly to work with refugees if she gets the chance.

“Not only she will get the chance to help people in need, but this will give her the power to fight for her own rights, as she will gain the knowledge, skills, and capacities to empower herself and know how to obtain her own rights, and from there to help women in her society obtain their rights.”

Eman Ismail

Eman Ismail is CARE’s Deputy Country Director for Programmes in Jordan.

“At the beginning of my professional life I faced challenges as a woman. I started in the private sector as the only female on a team of 40 male staff. I had to prove myself and my skills to not be perceived as second rate by colleagues, only because I’m female.

“To empower women we must also engage men, as they play a key role in the decision-making process. That is part of the nature of the existing power structure in any community, nationally and globally.

“I have a simple message to any woman who wants to become a humanitarian: if I could do it, then you can do it. Do not accept limitations just because you are a woman, and do not accept being put in a box. You can shape your life the way you want to, regardless of the traditional image imposed on you. You can make positive change in the world, as a successful woman.”

Doha Abu Shannab

Doha Abu Shannab is a case manager at Zarqa community centre

“As a case manager I meet with whole families, with the goal of better understanding the needs of each member – the mother, the father, daughters and sons.

In some cases, women are suffering from domestic violence. They may ask for legal help, or sometimes just to talk. In other cases, children are having difficulty in their neighbourhood, perhaps being bullied.

“Once families have been assessed, we offer them a service plan that ensures follow-up and may include emergency cash assistance, or programming in cash for protection, which can help a child return to school. In some plans we provide referrals to other agencies for further assistance.

“As a humanitarian, I’m inspired by the people we are supporting. When you see the children smile, simply by asking them a question, including them in the conversation, this encourages me. When you can solve a problem for a client, sometimes you feel you’ve helped provide them a second chance in this life.”

Zeina Abu Jabara

Zeina Abu Jabara is a CARE project coordinator in Azraq town.

“As a woman in the humanitarian field, I’m empowered as a project coordinator to take decisions, based here in the field. Through focus groups and awareness sessions, we’re consistently ensuring women’s increased participation, encouraging women to leave their homes to attend sessions, and seeing men, too, who encourage women to participate.

“They see that we are offering real services. They believe we can help, that we are honest in our effort to make their lives better.

“My family, also, has supported my decision to do this work. When I told my father I was taking a job so far from our home in Amman, he said: ‘Okay, if you want to do this hard work.’ My uncles, too, were surprised but supportive. ‘You want to go there? You are free.’“I think among international humanitarian agencies, increasingly, people expect to see women in these roles. Even in Jordan, the heads of many local charitable organisations are women. It’s not so strange anymore.”

Jumana Abu Latif

Jumana Abu Latif is a volunteer with CARE in Azraq town.

“I’m inspired by the commitment of my colleagues, the humanitarian staff at CARE. But also I’m motivated by the Syrian people I meet. They’re vulnerable, and they need assistance. When others around the world will not help them, we must.”

Hanan Atout

Hanan Atout is the receptionist at the Zarqa community centre.

“I love helping the people CARE serves – whether they are refugees or from the host community. It takes nothing to be kind to another person.

Some of the people we work with have nothing, and need everything.

“I started in humanitarian work with CARE because when you have a dream, you chase it. All people, including refugees, should have the opportunity to chase their dreams. They have the right to live in a peaceful place where they can dream freely.”the opportunity to chase their dreams. They have the right to live in a peaceful place where they can dream freely.”

Learn more about how CARE is responding to the crisis in Syria – and how you can help.