Press release: UN reports review the impact of displacement on Syrian women in Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon


The voices of Syrian refugee women too often go unheard, contributing to continued gender discrimination and violence. In the spirit of the UN global campaign #HearMeToo, to mark the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence, UN Women Regional Office for the Arab States sets out to amplify their voices, to hear from them directly on life in displacement.

Over the past year, UN Women interviewed more than 1000 Syrian female refugees across Jordan, Lebanon and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq to better understand the impact of displacement on women, and on gender dynamics, including women’s roles, responsibilities, access to humanitarian aid and experiences of violence. Despite differences in contexts across regions and countries, similarities emerged. Women’s life in displacement is characterized by economic insecurity, precarious civil status, limited employment opportunities, challenges in accessing aid, acute isolation and increasing levels of gender-based violence.

The majority of Syrian refugee women interviewed in Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon have played bigger roles at home and in the community since the onset of the war. The hardships of displacement have shaken traditional patriarchal conceptions of women’s roles and responsibility; the need for women to work and provide for their families emerged as a primary concern and challenge for female refugees across all countries. Despite their desire to find work, employment remains elusive, forcing many to resort to harmful measures, such as restricting their food, borrowing money or taking their children out of school.

I need nothing but work. Work allows you to preserve your dignity and self-respect,” says Hadeel*, a 48-year-old divorced mother, living as a refugee in Lebanon since 2012.

While the majority of refugee women have had more assertive household and community roles as refugees in displacement, their fear of gender-based violence has worsened as a result of the crisis. In some cases, women’s new roles and responsibilities have challenged existing patriarchal norms, putting women and girls at a higher risk of physical, sexual and emotional violence, both within the household and in the community.

Domestic gender-based violence has also been exacerbated since the onset of the crisis, whether because of the additional financial stress, household tensions, or other reasons. Across the three countries, gender-based violence is aggravated by the prevalent perception that the security services would not respond positively or adequately if victims were to report it.

I don’t think violence is reported because the authorities do not punish anyone, because we are refugees.” Said Hana*, a 38-year-old woman living with her husband and four children in Erbil, Iraq, since 2015.

Despite current talks of refugees’ return, UN data and surveys suggest returns will not take place in large numbers soon. Until safe and voluntary returns are possible, the international community should ensure that gender mainstreaming in humanitarian and resilience programming prioritizes women and girls’ empowerment and access to services.

Better protection for themselves and their families and access to work and livelihood were articulated by the women we spoke to as the foundation for their empowerment and equality.” Said Mohammad Naciri, Regional Director of UN Women for the Arab States. “In the absence of this, women and girls will continue to be forced to make decisions and compromises that put themselves at risk and limit their choices and opportunities.” 

Read our policy brief UNPACKING GENDERED REALITIES IN DISPLACEMENT: The status of Syrian refugee women in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.

To know more about how displacement has impacted Syrian female refugees, read our Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon reports.

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*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the individuals