Gender and displacement: What’s it like to be a Syrian female refugee in Jordan?


Actual and preconceived threats against Syrian female refugees in Jordan are further constraining their movement and increasing their isolation and access to aid.

UN Women’s new report Unpacking gendered realities in displacement: the status of Syrian refugee women in Jordan examines how gender-based discrimination interplays with displacement, poverty and instability, increasing refugee Syrian women’s risks to violence and physical isolation in Jordan. The study also seeks to better understand the changing nature of gender dynamics, women’s roles and responsibilities in displacement, access to humanitarian aid and experiences of violence. The findings reinforce and complement those of previous reports by UN Women and other partners, and highlight that gender discrimination and vulnerability continue in displacement and must be acknowledged and addressed.

Based on in-depth qualitative interviews with Syrian female refugees across Jordan, the report highlights that refugees avoid living in the camps in part due to concerns around violence against women. Both those in and outside of camps reported violence against women occurring in both the public and private spheres – with increases in violence against women as a result of the stress of displacement. Despite international and national efforts, violence against women continues to go unpunished. Generally, women do not report such acts for fear of backlash against themselves or their families.

Lack of employment opportunities further aggravates the situation, causing women to rely on the informal economy and on borrowing from neighbors and local shops, putting them at even greater threat of exploitation. While a number of women expressed their desire to work outside the home, they feared verbal, physical, and sexual violence. Mobile female breadwinners and household decision-makers are often seen as a direct threat to normative masculinities which can lead not only to sexual and physical violence, but also to economic and legal violence that severely restricts mobility and personal agency.

“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.” 

To alleviate the hardships of displacement on Syrian female refugees in Jordan and empower them, the report has made the following recommendations:

  1. Ensure that gender mainstreaming in humanitarian and resilience programming prioritizes women and girls’ empowerment and access to services;
  1. Increase access to employment services and financial resources for female Syrian refugees, actively targeting refugee women for livelihoods programming;
  1. Support interactive, safe spaces for female Syrian refugees to meet, network and socialize. These centers should enhance reporting of gender-based violence and provide quality psychosocial support services;
  1. Ensure information sharing and awareness raising on available services, pairing approaches that utilize technology with those that are based on word of mouth;
  1. Promote accountability for violence against women and support the judicial system to investigate and prosecute cases of violence against women within the refugee community;
  1. Recognize the positive correlation between the strength of women’s movements and organizations and gender-equal societies, and invest in women-led organizations as key drivers of short-term and long-term social equality.

Read in Arabic.