In an attempt to save their lives, millions of Syrians left their bombarded homes behind. Ever since the start of the civil war in Syria five years ago, the lives of Syrian refugees have been a chain of suffering and misery. Those who came to Egypt were some of the luckiest, as the main challenges they faced were merely financial. Unlike other countries, like Lebanon and Turkey, Syrians were welcomed by Egyptians, had rights of ownership of residencies and commercial facilities, and were supported by organisations, like Misr Foundation for Health and Sustainable Development.
In an attempt to help the Syrian community fit into Egyptian society and provide healthcare services, Misr Foundation organised a series of activities for Syrian women and children. Focusing mainly on enhancing their living conditions, the campaign started with a series of seminars for Syrian women.
In collaboration with the Arab Women Organisation and CARE, the seminars discussed the main problems Syrian women face in Egyptian society. This includes sexual harassment, child marriage, general tips for healthcare, and how to prevent catching widely spread diseases, like Hepatitis C. The seminars are a part of the ‘You are more important’ campaign.
“We target the Syrian community in Egypt because they face a lot of obstacles that no one really talks about,” said Amr Hassan, head of Misr Foundation and consultant of obstetrics and gynaecology at Cairo University.
“Most of the Syrian women in Egypt suffer from child marriage. Due to the burden of financial responsibilities they have in Egypt and their constant fear, families force their daughters to marry at a very young age to lift some of the financial burdens, as well as to guarantee a better life for them,” Hassan said. “This leads to early births and severe health issues,” he added.
Hassan explained that the problems Syrian women go through in Egypt are similar to many problems Egyptian women suffer from in rural, “uneducated” villages. “We know for sure that these things happen in our country. We try to provide as much support as possible to both Syrians in Egypt and women in rural areas. However, we’re currently focusing on Syrian women because they don’t find much support Egypt,” he stated.
The seminar also tackled the sexual harassment Syrian women face in Egypt’s streets, teaching them self defence methods to protect themselves.
Sexual problems that these women might face with their husbands were also discussed, while solutions were suggested. “We know that if they had any intimate question, they would not talk about it. So, basically we tried covering all aspects of life in marriage,” he explained.
The organisers were concerned about how their message could be successfully delivered, given the differences between the cultures. “The studies conducted by CARE and the Arab Women Organisation showed that Syrian women are known to be very shy and rarely open to others. That is why we aimed to have female experts on-board,” Hassan added.
A part of the campaign was a painting competition for children aged 6-14. The children were asked to draw sketches about the negative effects of smoking and shisha (tobacco water pipe) on one’s health.
“Shisha is an inseparable part of the Syrian culture, just like in Egypt—even among women. That has a huge negative effect on their children, and through this competition, we hoped to make them realise how much they are ruining their children’s health. We hope that children drawing something like damaged lungs would convince the mothers to stop hurting themselves,” Hassan stated.
“In the end, we know that all Arab women suffer from similar problems, and we just hope to help them live a healthier lifestyle,” he concluded.