As the 9th anniversary of the war in Syria approaches, Lorraine Marriot, GOAL's Regional Director for the Middle East Region explains why Syrian women are bearing the brunt of this bitter conflict.
"For these women, the fear that comes with being a mother displaced during a war has left its mark... The toll placed on them is a harrowing byproduct of war, often missed among other news headlines."
A brokered truce now hangs over the ruins of Idlib city in the north west of Syria. A 10-week offensive to recapture the province has left a trail of devastation in its wake. Before Syria’s bitter 9-year war, this city was once decorated with tree-lined streets and white-stone buildings and was known for its calm and provincial air.
Satellite images released last week show areas in Idlib hit by recent military attacks are now uninhabitable. Idlib Province, a region the size of Co. Galway, now has three million displaced civilians hemmed into a shallow pocket. The needs of these people are greater than ever.
Since December, it’s been widely reported that up to a million people have become displaced within Idlib, many having already fled terror from one corner of Syria to another. Of these displaced, 80 percent are women and children. For these women, the fear that comes with being a mother displaced during a war has left its mark. First-hand reports from medical staff in the city’s hospitals describe a marked rise in miscarriages and premature births in the last two months. The toll placed on them is a harrowing byproduct of war, often missed among other news headlines.
Last February, when describing the crisis as a ‘‘man-made humanitarian nightmare’’ to the UN Security Council, the UN’s deputy humanitarian chief Ursula Mueller recalled a conversation she had with Syrian humanitarian workers. Mueller recounted how daily shelling is forcing expectant mothers to arrive at emergency wards under stress after leaving their homes in terror, and how these women were asking for caesarian deliveries out of fear of going into labor while on the move and without medical care.
For the past 8 years, GOAL has been on the ground in Idlib providing much needed emergency support and access to food and water for 1.1 million people every day. The population in northwest Syria was already vulnerable before the recent escalation of violence, now they are even further reliant on assistance to survive.
GOAL supports an ever-growing number of internally displaced people, many of them women, who are desperate for shelter and the most basic of needs. Humanitarians are struggling to keep up with the pace and scale of the crisis. The figures are staggering: 39 per cent of newly displaced households are sleeping in the open, in tents, or makeshift shelters in the middle of winter. Many also live in damaged buildings. 23 per cent of the population report eating one meal a day or less. Out of this group, women are bearing the brunt of this brutal conflict, becoming the sole caregivers of their children.
The 9-year war has deprived many women of their husbands, fathers and brothers. This burden of care imposed on them is enormous. It is one they have to manage on a daily basis and is compounded further by an ever-growing threat of more destruction from the front line in north western Syria.
The ceasefire that is currently in place offers what may be the last opportunity for the Security Council to enforce protection mechanisms for civilians and humanitarian workers. In Idlib’s dark chapter, as the 9-year anniversary approaches, women who find themselves caught up in the protracted conflict need voices of support, and now more than ever.
Lorraine Marriott is GOAL’s Regional Director for the Middle East Region