“I was new to the community and needed a space where I could mingle with other women and where I had the freedom to express myself and speak about my feelings” says Layla, a mother of four living in Syria.
In many societies, men dominate public spaces. As a result, it can be a struggle for women to find a place to build community, form new friendships or simply talk in a private setting.
In Syria, where armed conflict, poverty and instability are ever-present, many women have become isolated and their mobility has been curbed due to fears of sexual violence, harassment, and indiscriminate attacks.
RI’s Women and Girls’ Safe Spaces provide women and girls with a place they can call their own.
The Safe Spaces provide a confidential entry point for women to access psychosocial services and professional care for survivors of gender-based violence. In most instances, they are connected directly with RI’s health facilities so that service users can be treated for medical issues as needed. And, in some Safe Spaces, participants are also offered life skills classes that can potentially open the door to new opportunities.
Most importantly, these Safe Spaces give women a place to come together to develop new social support networks, so that even on the hardest days, they have someone they can turn to for help.
Below three regular RI Safe Space visitors reflect on their lives, their experience at the Safe Space, and their hopes for the future:
“I come to the center 2-3 times a week. After talking about my issues with the Safe Space staff, they’ve been extremely helpful.
I have five children and our situation here is really not very good. We have been moving from one rental to another for many months. The house we are in at the moment is not well equipped, so we’re struggling. My older son is working but whatever he earns is not sufficient. Our largest expenses are on food, water and healthcare, including the rent.
My son’s salary can’t cover our costs so we are forced to borrow money every month, and it’s not sustainable.
What really attracted me to the Safe Space is the life-skills activities, especially the sewing class.
As the economic situation here continues to deteriorate, we will need all the support we can get to deal with everything, so for sure I will continue coming to the center for more sessions.
For me, coming to the center means gaining knowledge about the issues, how to deal with stressors, all of which helps me gain self-confidence.
In the future, I’d love to have a job that’s decently paid, so that we don’t have to worry about making ends meet. I would love to be able to help my son provide for the family in a way that’s more sustainable, so that we don’t have to borrow money or buy food on credit.”
“I’m one of the first women to visit the Safe Space. I come almost every day. It’s a place for me to feel free and escape the harshness of the outside.
I have two sons and two daughters. My oldest son was 16 years old when militant groups took control of our town, and tried to conscript him. We tried to smuggle him into Lebanon, but he was killed on the way there.
I’m the main provider for the family because my husband, who is older than me, has diabetes. Since my husband is sick, he can’t work. We need money to sustain the family, pay for my husband’s medication, pay for rent, and pay for water.
I was so worried when COVID started and restrictions on movement were imposed, but the staff from the center reached out individually to everyone and organised sessions over phone. A hotline number was also given to everyone in case anything happened and we need immediate support.
They taught me calming exercises, how to manage stress and deal with different stressors.
Whenever I get into a difficult situation where I can’t find a solution or feel distressed, I always reach out to staff at the Safe Space, and they help.
Of course they can’t change my situation, but their support helps me deal with it better.”
No matter how much I earn each month, it’s never enough to cover all costs. It is all very stressful... Whenever I get into a difficult situation where I can’t find a solution or feel distressed, I always reach out to staff at the Safe Space, and they help. "
“I am married with three children. My husband is unemployed and doesn’t have a job. We have no income whatsoever at the moment, and we hardly have enough food to feed our kids.
My family can’t afford the expensive potable water, we simply don’t have the money. We get water directly from the river, and I boil it in order to take away the worst pollution and to try to sterilize it.
I remember how things were when I was a child. It was so different. Back in the day, you could just open a tap and water would flow. There was no such thing as trucking water from the river.
There were also job opportunities during that period. Now, every day my husband goes around in the village, or to a larger town nearby, looking for work but he can’t find anything.
It’s really difficult when my kids ask me for something and I can’t provide them with it, even if it’s just basic food items.
I heard about the Safe Space from a friend of mine, she was so happy to have a place to go to, so I was curious and came to see for myself.
I attended quite a number of sessions and found them extremely useful. It really helped me deal with my stress.
Whenever I have problems at home, I come here to talk to somebody. It helps me get out my stress, and it helps when somebody listens.”
Women and Girls around the world continue to face unprecedented challenges to their education, their physical and mental wellbeing, and the protections needed for a life without violence.
RI’s Women and Girls Safe Spaces contribute to happier, healthier, more connected lives, and make a lasting difference to the women and girls that visit them.
Relief International in Syria
In 2021, we provided 1.1 million health consultations, and trained 428,000 people on improving their physical and mental health in Syria.