Since the brutal civil war in Syria began in 2011, more than three million people have fled the conflict. The majority of those who have sought refuge in neighboring Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey — four in five, according to the U.N. — are Syrian women and children. Moreover, a recent study by the U.N. Refugee Agency reports that some 145,000 Syrian refugee households are headed by women.
"It is a daily struggle to make ends meet," Ariane Rummery, a spokesperson at the U.N. Refugee Agency, tells Bustle. "In many ways the problems the women face represent the broader problems of the refugees, but I think women face additional challenges, as well."
On March 15, the war entered its fifth year. With no signs of a peaceful resolution in the near future, Syria's women refugees will continue to face numerous hurdles. Here are four major issues, and what you can do to help.
According to the U.N. Refugee Agency report, Syrian women are grappling with poor living conditions in their host countries. In a camp in Jordan, refugees reside in tents and caravans. Home for others comes in the form of damp garages or tiny, overcrowded dwellings far from basic services. The winter months are especially harsh, particularly for women living in flimsy tents or in shelters without sufficient heating. In Lebanon, there are no official refugee camps at all, and many displaced women shelter in makeshift tents on rented parcels of agricultural land.
"We call them a 'collection' or a 'tented settlement,'" Patricia Mouammar, an aid worker with the Christian relief organization World Vision tells Bustle in a phone interview from Lebanon. Because of the distance from larger town centers, she says that women are unable to access basic services or send their children to school. In inclement weather, tents often collapse, forcing families to share an already cramped dwelling. "It gets even more crowded," Mouammar says.
How you can help
The Arab-American humanitarian and development organization Life for Relief and Development is providing food and other essentials like mattresses, hygiene kits, and kitchen utensils to refugee families in tent camps and temporary housing. You can donate online.
Lack of Resources
Not only has the war driven Syrian women far from all that is familiar, but it has also separated many of them from husbands and extended family. As a result, many women refugees face grinding poverty and a lack of work opportunities, making even food and other basic necessities out of reach. "Some women are having to send their children off to work, some have had to sell their wedding rings," says Rummery. "In the study we did, only one-fifth had paid work."
How you can help
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) operates four Women's Centers in Lebanon, and helps refugee families with cash assistance for rent, food, and other essentials. The IRC is also providing job training and placement projects. You can submit an online donation.
CARE is providing refugees in Jordan and Lebanon with cash assistance for rent and food, and is also helping refugees and host communities with livelihood opportunities and vocational training. Donation information is listed on the website.
Lack of Privacy and Security
How you can help
World Vision is working on water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) projects to increase privacy in Lebanon's camps and informal settlements. Concern Worldwide is also is working in Lebanon to meet the WASH needs of Syrian refugees and tented settlements. You can donate online to World Vision and to Concern.
The Danish Refugee Council operates a shelter program in Lebanon to provide refugees with a safe living environment. The organization is also working to establish two community centers in Turkey that provide counseling and protective spaces. You can donate online here.
The poverty facing many refugee families and the threat of rape in overcrowded camps has resulted in an uptick in child marriages. Fearing for their daughters' safety and struggling to survive, families are marrying off girls as young as 12 to ease the financial burden and to protect them from unknown predators. A 2014 report released by the aid group Save the Children reveals that among Syrian refugee communities in Jordan, child marriage has doubled in some cases. Some 32 percent of all Syrian refugee marriages registered in Jordan in the first quarter of 2014 involved a girl under 18, according to UNICEF.
How you can help
UNHCR and its partners identify and monitor early marriage cases, provide counseling to families, and undertake campaigns to raise awareness. UNHCR also provides refugee families with cash assistance for food and other essentials to ease financial hardship. To support these activities, you can make a donation here.
Perhaps the biggest challenge of all facing Syria's women refugees, is the threat of being forgotten. As the war drags on, the international community has begun to focus elsewhere, especially with the ongoing threat of global terrorism and other crises that dominate international headlines.
Moummar, who has worked with Syrian refugees since the onset of the conflict, says that she has recently seen a saddening change in those she is has been assisting. At the start of the war, refugees often spoke openly about their dreams of returning to Syria and of a better future. However, today such dreams are becoming yet another of the conflict's many casualties.
"The hope in the eyes of the children and the hope in the eyes of their mothers is fading away," she says. "There is no end in sight to this crisis."
Images: Getty Images, World Vision