A small fieldwork team has recently returned from a short trip to Rojava, North East Syria where they met with refugee population of Kurdish Iraqi Ezidis and representatives of the self-administered areas to gain an insight into their situation.
Media reports of violence, rape and kidnap against civilian populations fleeing from Iraq into Syria prompted Roj Women, a London-based rights and services organisation, to raise the voice of women in the crisis and investigate the potential to help them. Travelling to West Kurdistan, Rojava North East Syria from Iraq’s autonomous South Kurdistan the team identified the recently established Newroz Camp, near Derik in the Al Cizre canton, as a suitable location for their initial enquiries.
The first part of the research intended to identify the perceived needs of the displaced Ezidi people living in the camp using a rapid assessment humanitarian survey tool (Humanitarian Emergency Settings Perceived Needs Scale, HESPER); the second part involved listening to members of local women’s associations and hearing about the initiatives for women’s safety and protection that have been established in the self-administered areas since the revolution began in Syria.
Harrowing personal stories were heard including a family who found a baby on their escape from violence, another who lost their maternal grandmother due to being unable to physically carry her, stories of massacre, ambush, thirst and fear and of families separated from each other with no knowledge of what has happened to their loved ones or their homes and neighbours. These stories have been reported elsewhere in the media but not so often has the news of resilience and hope been reported.
A striking aspect of the story is the response of the refugees to the questions about how they are being treated and respected by the local populations in Rojava. The overwhelming response was positive. Not only did the Ezidi people feel that the People’s Protection Units had saved their lives in Sinjar by opening a safe passage to escape from violence but now they felt a bond of trust with the local hosts for the care they are receiving as refugees. They are now completely dependent on others and have, in most cases, lost everything, yet despite this, most said they were feeling safe at Newroz Camp under the protection of the Asayis, YPG and YPJ.
A further striking aspect is the positive news about the self-administered area’s commitment to gender equality and the rapid strides they have taken towards improving the emergency and long-term services for women. Since the revolution people in Rojava have been establishing their own ways of administering including by February 2014 establishing a Women’s Commission with a minister with a specific remit to address gender equality. Women’s unions and committees established over three years are constantly working and meeting to address different services for women including safe houses, domestic violence care and intervention, family mediation, medical and psycho-social services, counselling, education, economic, political and social rights and self-help strategies. Visit the Facebook pages of the Women’s Commission at f: destya-jin and domestic violence foundation Sara f: sara againstviolence.
The associations are however not only working in a situation of war and economic hardship but also of political challenges. The self-administered areas are not officially recognised internationally and relations with immediate neighbours in political opposition include tactics of embargo and isolation.
The research team have listened to women in Rojava and witnessed their dedication and creativity in these challenging circumstances. Join us to support them. This research calls for humanitarian and campaigning organisations with an interest in refugee care and gender equality to reach out to the women’s associations in Rojava and to support them in their efforts to provide emergency and long-term services. Roj Women is supporting a fund-raising and communication campaign to bring support to these grass roots organisations directly.The report aims to assist local organisations and international organisations by providing an insight into the local context.
The findings have been reported and published in detail by Roj Women and are available to download at:
If you would like to discuss the findings and ways to support the work being done in Rojava to support refugees and gender equality please contact: Ayse Tekagac or Yasemin Andan at firstname.lastname@example.org. A donations website to support the campaign will also be announced within the next few days.
Research conducted on behalf of: