Refugee women at Schisto discuss the main messages of fostering women's rights. PHOTO: DRC

Supporting Refugee Women in Greece on International Women’s Day

Every year on March 8, the world celebrates International Women’s Day, acknowledging the achievements of women. In Greece the Danish Refugee Council saw the day as an opportunity to shed light on the stories of female refugees and migrants who despite extreme hardships and trauma show incredible resilience.
 
 

28.03.2018

Refugee and migrant women often face particularly difficult obstacles, but continue to amaze the world with their strength as the primary caregivers to their children. While often being a single parent or the only parent on the move with the children, they hold major responsibilities in providing for their families and are the lifeblood of their communities.

With support of the European Commission's department for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), the Danish Refugee Council in Greece, dedicated this year’s International Women’s Day to support and empower refugee women.

Sharing powerful experiences in Koutsochero refugee site

“I am a woman and I am powerful in my own right,” 32-year-old Thethe from DR Congo exclaimed during a spirited discussion at the Koutsochero refugee site in central Greece.

DRC had organized an event to inform refugee women about the significance of the day, encourage them to express themselves and share their experiences.

Together with the Diotima Centre for Research on Women’s Issues, DRC staff opened the event with a presentation on the historical background of International Women’s Day and discussed cases of refugee women who have overcome great hardships to find happiness and success.

“My life has changed, I feel safe now. Why else would a white-haired lady like me have come here?” 69-year-old Fatima said, referring to her dangerous trip from Afghanistan to Greece.

Approximately 22% of those who arrived in Greece last year were women. Many of them survived extraordinary hardships, fleeing war and persecution. Displaced women, more often than men, encounter discrimination, infringement of their rights, and sexual violence during their difficult journeys.

Fatima’s words echoed the desire for a better life. Regardless of their age or experiences, the women of Koutsochero expressed their strong will to move forward.

“Learning about my rights makes me feel stronger,” 29-year-old Naheda from Syria said. Berivan, a woman from Iraq, agreed and said that if women raise their voices, they can succeed in life.

A special tribute was made to DRC Education Advisor, Ljiljana Sinickovic, a former refugee herself, to encourage the women envision a future full of possibilities.

“Today I’m helping refugee children to continue their education” was Ljiljana’s message to the women of Koutsochero.

Koutsochero Greece womens day

DRC Education Advisor, Ljiljana Sinickovic, a former refugee herself, sent her message to the women of Koutsochero. PHOTO: DRC

Giota Fotou, a famous Greek author, also presented her work and highlighted the difficulties she faced being a female writer. The floor was last given to Berivan who read a moving poem in Arabic, which touched everybody in the room.

Focusing on education for women at Schisto refugee site 

A similar event was organized in Attica, at the Schisto refugee hosting site, focusing on the need for the empowerment of women through education.

More than 30 participants drew inspiration from the achievements of women around the world in the past and present by learning about women’s rights.

Schisto Greece teaching women

Refugees at Schisto learn about inspiring women around the world. PHOTO: DRC

Thirty-four-year-old Rama from Syria, who used to work as a teacher, highlighted the importance of education, touching upon obstacles facing refugee women and girls.

At the moment, only 61% of refugee children have access to primary education in the world, and it is even harder for refugee girls.

Limited access to schooling perpetuates and magnifies the challenges of life in exile by making employability, staying healthy, and holding on to dignity and hope significantly more difficult. It also limits the potential of refugee women and girls to rebuild their lives, protect themselves against abuse and take a lead in shaping the lives of their communities.

The women in Schisto further discussed the different experiences of womanhood in their countries of origin such as Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq as well as their own challenges, strengths and achievements. 

A field trip and a surprise meal for the women of Lavrio refugee site

At the Lavrio refugee hosting site, near Athens, the men decided to take on a traditionally female role for the day by preparing a surprise lunch for the women who attended female-focused activities conducted by DRC.

Male refugees cook Lavrio Greece

Male refugees of Lavrio site teamed up with DRC to prepare a surprise meal to celebrate International Women's Day. PHOTO: DRC

Thirty-four-year-old Mujham Ouso from Syria was eager to join the surprise cooking. “It is difficult to be a woman,” he said, “it includes a lot of responsibilities. We want to show them that we acknowledge this by sharing these responsibilities at least for one day.”

The women were surprised and delighted, invited everybody to join in traditional Arabic dances after the meal.

“People kept dancing and dancing, letting go of all their stress and day-to-day problems and complications,” DRC Cultural Mediator Souhell Zidane said.

“They just enjoyed the moment together, regardless of gender or nationality, no matter what language they spoke.”