Women made up more than one in five of those who arrived in Greece last year. Many were mothers and carrying one or several children with them on their flight from violence or persecution. Many had survived extraordinary hardships.
A report by Mixed Migration Centre under DRC on women and girls on the move showed that displaced women more often than men encounter discrimination, infringement of their rights, and sexual violence during their difficult journeys. Having found safety in Greece, the women now fight for their rights and for a better future for themselves and their children. DRC has spoken with some of them about surviving unimaginable struggles to find safety for their family.
“In Afghanistan and Iran, women are very restricted due to local norms. At best, we might get a flower on Women’s Day. I was determined that my daughter should have a better future, and I decided to leave,” says Fatima, a 26-year-old single mother.
She and her daughter faced great challenges on their way to Greece. After they reached Turkey, they often had to go without food and essential items like baby napkins. Fatima faced great uncertainty and feared for her and her daughter’s lives.
Since her arrival at Lavrio site in Attica, Fatima feels safer and has tried to put her pieces back together. Although living in a refugee camp is still a long way from normality, she takes every opportunity she can get towards self-reliance. She never missed a class in English and Greek and participated in cosmetic and sewing workshops organised by DRC in cooperation with the International Migration Organization, and funded by the Asylum, Migration, and Integration Fund of the European Union.
Fatima has worked in clothing factories, but she hopes to get a job in a beauty salon due to her experience in that field.
“I just need a chance,” she says.
“We can’t change how people think about women, but what we can do is decide for ourselves and fight for a better life.”
"We need equal rights with men, we need to stop discrimination against women to be able to reach safety and their dreams,” says Somaya.
The 28-year-old single mum left Iran two years ago in the hope of reaching a safe country and get away from her violent and drug-addicted husband. As a refugee in Iran, she felt “invisible” due to lack of legal documents, which made her unable to study and seek public services.
“I had no choice. I had to leave my husband, but I couldn’t rent an apartment or get a decent job to support my daughter and son in Iran,” she explains.
However, Somaya did not expect that it would take her more than two years to find safety. Nor did she imagine that her journey to Greece would be so tough.
“The day we crossed the sea, the weather was extremely bad, but my children were thrown in the dinghy and I had to follow. It was terrifying. I thought my life would end, and I was so scared for my children,” she says. Somaya is still working with a psychologist to overcome the nightmares caused by the crossing of the Aegean Sea to Lesvos in Greece.
But Somaya is strong and down to earth. She does not care about being rich but hopes to ensure that she and her children have access to basic things and have less uncertainty in their lives. For her, having a clear plan and being in control is key.
“DRC has been supporting us with legal aid and with Greek language and other classes. But for me, it is important not to wait for anyone to provide things for me. I want to study and become a nurse. This has been my dream job since I was a little girl,” Somaya says.
She is eager to get going on her own. After all, this is what Niloofar has been doing since her husband left her and their three children, aged 12, 11 and 8, after they fled to Greece from Iran.
Now, all that the 31-year-old single mother thinks about is getting a job.
Back in Iran, she worked from the age of 12, as she lost her father at a young age and needed to support her family. She has worked in packaging, sewing and ironing to survive, and hard work does not scare her. To improve her chances, she prepared her CV and started inquiring about job opportunities to employers with the help of DRC staff in the camp.
But life is more than work. At the Schisto site in Attica where she lives, she participates in the arts and crafts workshops and language courses when available.
Niloofar’s dream is to open her own falafel shop and make a living for herself and her children.
“As soon as I receive an answer from the asylum service, I will be able to leave the camp and focus on my dream,” she says.
When war and conflict forces families into a life of displacement, girls and women are the most vulnerable. Not because women are somehow unable to survive or manage themselves, but because they, as women, are at greater risk of being abused and deprived of their rights.