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Middle East

Women playing greater role in refugee camps

As men fight on the frontlines, women in Syrian refugee camps have taken up the tasks of running aid efforts.
Last modified: 18 Jan 2013 19:33

The atmosphere was a bit festive at the Kilis container camp on Syria-Turkey border, perhaps one of the best in the world in terms of equipment and infrastructure.

The placards and banners hail the election of local leaders at the camp as a "step further to establish a new nation". But that dream is so far elusive.

Fatima Tirmanini and Malika Moussa are two female candidates hoping to get elected to the administrative council that will look after the refugees. The election is largely symbolic, but offers a glimpse into a practice alien to Syria: free election.

Tirmanini and Moussa have a long way to go. They come from a conservative background where prejudice and gender discrimination are very common. To win the election, they have to convince swing voters that they can deliver and up to the task.

But women are already jumping in the fray. Men go to the battlegrounds, or are involved in the anti-government movement which leaves women running the villages or the camps. They tend to the injured, internally displaced and the orphans.

Female expats travel all the way from Gulf countries or Europe delivering aid in the camps. Others are setting up charities imposing a new reality along the border: women are having a bigger say in the daily life of Syrians grappling with a 22-month-long rebellion that continues to claim more casualties and destruction.

Malika didn’t finish her studies and she regrets that, in her late forties she is determined to do something for her people. Her husband stood by her saying “helping Syrians through these tumultuous times is a great thing”.

Fatima Tirmanini was not deterred by the pervasive patriarchal tradition that views negatively about women mixing up with male colleagues, but she couldn't care less saying the "new Syria we fought for is a Syria where we will be in a much better position".