Amal (Pseudonym)

Feminist community and peacebuilding activist, and human rights defender

“I work in Damascus.

In this emergency, we formed a volunteer team of friends to respond to the calls of people in the different Syrian governorates. The main need on the first day was food and clothes, especially in the collective shelters in Latakia, Jableh, Aleppo, and mostly Hama. Many of these centers were not official and were not equipped to receive a big number of people.

On the second day,earthquake day, needs began to become clearer. The first necessity was menstrual supplies for women and girls, including women who had recently given birth or were pregnant and exposed to health problems and bleeding due to physical trauma. Menstrual pads were not a need that could be postponed; they were as important as food.

We alerted volunteer teams  on the ground and reminded them of the importance of including supplies in daily relief activities. We then bought quantities and distributed them. We even got discounts from some suppliers. We worked hard to collect donations from as many people as possible, both inside and outside of Syria – with extreme caution, given the complex security context in which we operate.

On the third day, the displacement movement to Damascus began and we focused on being  a point of contact. On the one hand, there was a huge need, and on the other, there were people willing to work and help. We acted as focal points, documenting  cases that arrived through a trusted group, verifying them, registering their needs, and connecting workers on the ground to cover the need. We tried to secure housing in Damascus and the surrounding countryside by paying lower rents or securing free housing from donors.

Even though it wasn’t directly affected, Damascus has a lot of needs that are getting worse as more people leave, which in addition to its centralization imposes additional priorities as follows:

  • Housing is a priority and more specifically  for at least six months. We do not mean shelters here. Our experiences as women in shelters are very bad, whether due to poor health facilities, a lack of privacy and security, cases of harassment, assault and sexual exploitation or the psychological burdens of instability. These burdens exacerbate the trauma resulting from the causes of displacement.
  • We are facing a humanitarian catastrophe that has caused people to lose their sources of livelihood, caused waves of displacement and affected 90% of the population, 90% of whom are below the poverty line, according to United Nations reports. There is a dire need to focusing on economic recovery projects for women to support themselves and their families.
  • We have to understand specific women’s needs based on a comprehensive survey that reaches all groups – and with international teams supervising distribution.
  • Providing smart phones and computers for those affected, whether through donations or small loans. The Internet is the only way for Syrian women to communicate with the rest of the world. Losing this window puts women at risk of isolation and prevents them from communicating with their networks, developing themselves through self-education, and achieving a stable and necessary income now, before it is too late.
  • Protecting women activists in the relief field. The regime began to clamp down on  security forces, holding  activists accountable and threatening them. Some female activists are retreating out of fear and  announcing cessation of their work, which in fact is narrowing to the minimum limits. Licensing initiatives require the approval of four security branches and in no way guarantees the safety of workers.
  • Providing psychosocial support to women and girls that is gender-sensitive and sustainable.”