Today is International Women’s Day, a day which highlights the severe discrimination and oppression of women all around the world. There are strong evidence for the thesis that if gender equality is promoted in developing countries, it will give positive effects when it comes to political participation, poverty reduction and human rights.
But gender equality also has an intrinsic value, as people created in the image of God, it is totally unacceptable when women are facing oppression, violence and humiliation. Christian Aid has written this text about women’s situation in war, with the case study of Syria, that emphazise the importance of gender awareness.
Women in wartime
Today some 90% of war casualties are civilians, the majority of whom are women and children.
Just over a century ago, when the first International Women’s Day events were held, women and children made up only 10% of war casualties, while military personnel made up the majority of those who lost their lives.
International Women’s Day and Mothering Sunday
This year International Women’s Day and Mothering Sunday fall over the same weekend, on 8 and 10 March respectively.
These are both moments for celebrating the strength, resilience and inspiration of women all over the planet. But they are also times to draw attention to the fact that women are the world’s second class citizens.
You can see this dichotomy played out in war. Women and children are the vast majority of war casualties, and existing levels of gender violence (already an endemic problem in many places) rise in wartime – especially incidence of rape, even mass rape used as a weapon of war.
And despite being disproportionately affected, women make up only 2% of signatories to peace agreements.
But women should not be seen only as passive victims – they are often the ones taking responsibility for keeping families together, protecting children, finding food, and assuming new roles as gender stereotypes are forced to shift in times of emergency.
This observation has been backed up in Christian Aid’s own experience in responding to the needs of civilians in conflict, and we make special provision to support women, ironically both for their particular vulnerability and their key role as protectors.
This has been the case in our latest emergency response, for those affected by the conflict in Syria.
Syria: responding to the needs of mothers
Samira was eight months pregnant when she was forced to flee her home in Syria.
Unrest in Syria has forced more than two million people to flee their homes for safer areas of the country; a million more have left the country as refugees.
Christian Aid is working with our local Lebanese and Iraqi partner organisations, and sister ACT agencies (an international alliance of churches and faith based organisations) to deliver assistance to those in need, especially mothers and children.
Samira was eight months pregnant when she was forced to flee her hometown with her six children. After a gruelling 12-hour journey, they arrived at a refugee encampment in western Lebanon, where she has since given birth to a boy, Ahmed.
Our ACT Alliance partner, the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) has provided Samira’s antenatal care as part of the support that they are giving to vulnerable refugee mothers.
They are providing pre and post-natal support for mothers, focusing on nutrition, breastfeeding education and mother support groups.
They are also distributing personal care kits, including towels and underwear.
Samira’s baby Ahmed is just a few weeks old, and severely underweight. Samira says: ‘My baby is so small, the others weren’t like this.’
The IOCC continue to visit regularly to monitor Ahmed and advise Samira on how to help him gain weight.
IOCC is also supporting community health workers and providing psychosocial workshops to help people who have fled violence to cope with trauma. This is particularly important for mothers, who are often bearing the strain of supporting children’s emotional fears while struggling with their own.
The strength to carry on
Like so many Syrians, Samira cannot see an end in sight to the conflict: ‘I don’t think the situation in Syria will improve any time soon. People are just killing each other. I wish I could return, but I can’t.’
In the direst of situations, women like Samira have to be strong. The support from Christian Aid and our partners is crucial in helping refugee women find the strength to carry on – whether it be supplies of blankets and food, trauma counselling, provision of maternal healthcare, or the simplest of things like sanitary towels to maintain personal cleanliness and a sense of dignity.
How you can help
You can help by praying for Samira this Mothering Sunday, by praying for all refugee mothers struggling to support their families in the worst situations, and praying for Christian Aid’s emergency response work.
You can also donate to the appeal , to help refugee mothers find the strength to carry on.