Before dawn creeps over the horizon, a woman wakes to the distant sound of fighting. She turns over to watch her two daughters sleeping peacefully on their small bed. For a moment, life seems serene and unshaken. Her husband was killed in the fighting and she was forced to flee her home country of Syria. Displaced, confused and without a steady income she fights daily for survival. Each day, she fearfully walks with her girls to the market to buy food rations. The likelihood of them being attacked or sexually assaulted is high. Aside from this morning stroll, the majority of their day is spent in their small shelter on the outskirts of town.
Violence is around every corner.
According to the United Nations, 9 million people have been displaced by the war in Syria that began nearly four years ago. Two-thirds of those affected are women and children. Women and girls face daily threats of poverty, disease, sexual assault, forced marriage and getting caught in the physical crossfire.
The above story represents life for many women and young girls still living in Syria and refugees living in the countries of Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. Women are often assaulted by their male counterparts in factories, restaurants and refugee camps. Young girls are forced into early or temporary marriages. Extreme poverty continues to force women and girls into prostitution. Cultural and social stigmas prevent women and girls from speaking out against sexual and gender based violence. The harsh realities for women and girls are difficult to imagine.
Hope is a distant memory as women and girls suffer in silence.
When will the violence end?
This is a question asked by Syrian activists Hiba Sawan and Rania Kisar at the recent Women in the World Summit. Hiba is a young Syrian girl determined to bring hope to women and children in Syria. Last year, she experienced violence firsthand when her village was attacked by a chemical weapon. Now more determined than ever, Hiba speaks out to raise awareness and encourage others to champion the plight of women and children in her home country.
Rania Kisar, founder of the Syrian Women’s Revolution Committee, is working to create change in this war torn country through education. Together, Hiba and Rania are a part of a number of Syrian women who are standing up for their rights and seeking change. In the face of many untold stories of women and girls who suffer in silence, the courage of these two women inspires me.