Tough days for Arab women facing war and displacement
Now that the ritualistic marking of International Women’s Day is past, it bears noting that millions do not get much of a mention on the date — March 8th — which was designated by the United Nations to celebrate and advocate for women’s rights around the world.
Women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region bear a disproportionate share of the burdens that come with incessant conflicts and inevitable displacement, along with the inveterate social consequences of belonging to the female gender.
Often not enough attention is paid to the plight of Arab women facing such crisis situations.
This is tragic but vastly less so than their lives. They belong to a region that is home to five active and protracted conflicts — Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and the Palestinian territories — and three of the worst humanitarian crises — Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
Terrorism takes an enormous and bloody toll on their families — MENA women are more likely to lose fathers, brothers, husbands and sons than most women in other parts of the world. They, more than women elsewhere, also are statistically likely to be caught up in the disorientating and disempowering experience of an enforced flight from home as war engulfs their countries.
Of course, political and social turmoil affects men, too, but for women the pain is turned up several agonising notches. Consider this: According to some estimates, more than one-quarter of Syrian refugee households in Jordan are headed by women. The situation is not much different in Yemen. It has had six years of political strife. Since early 2015, many of the men and even young boys have been sucked into the fighting, leaving the women and girls at home to struggle as best they might to support their families.
Then there are the women stuck in refugee camps in a number of countries such as Greece. As they helplessly endure a seemingly endless wait to be processed and make their way into northern Europe to resume lives interrupted, these women live in constant fear of violence, including rape, according to a study published in January by the Refugee Rights Data Project.
This, because they live inadequately protected in camps, some run by the Greek government and local non-governmental organisations and mainly concentrated near the Macedonian border and in Athens. A UN Refugee Agency spokesman has admitted to concern about reports of sexual and gender-based violence, which “is closely linked to substandard living conditions in areas accommodating refugees”.
Clearly, female refugees face more harrowing situations than their male counterparts and are forced to experience conflict and its consequences differently because they have fewer physical resources, political rights, authority or control over their environment and needs than men.
If International Women’s Day is really to mean anything, women across the region must be substantially included in peace efforts, as well as recovery, humanitarian assistance and security operations — as partners, stakeholders and agents of delivery.
Perhaps, most importantly, these modern-day heroes should be celebrated as anchors of hope.