Syrian girls are encouraged to follow their dreams and continue their education

Date: Friday, April 2, 2021

Inspired by Fatima Abdi (on the left), Jana Zaben (on the right) started to pursue her dream of painting. Photos: Personal archives

Distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic has put Syrian girls at risk of dropping out of school, especially those who don’t have access to the internet and technological devices, increasing the risk of child, early and forced marriage. The initiative “Girls at School, Futures are Safe” aims to ensure that Syrian girls continue their education and do not face child, early and forced marriage. The initiative is implemented by the Flying Broom Women’s Communication and Research Association within the EU-UN Women regional programme on ending violence against women in the Western Balkans and Turkey “Implementing Norms, Changing Minds”.

More than 345 Syrian mothers and fathers who live in Mersin, a city in southern Turkey, are now more aware of the importance of their daughters attending school as well as the legal mechanisms pertaining to child, early and forced marriages (CEFM) and their responsibilities to prevent early and forced marriages of their girls. Flying Broom Women’s Communication and Research Association has been leading this community awareness initiative by organizing online and face-to-face trainings and workshops designed to support Syrian girls to remain in education.

Syrian mothers and fathers are also empowered as they were informed about their legal and human rights, legal mechanisms if those rights are violated, and the means to access justice.

“I decided to take part in the initiative to learn more about the rights of Syrian refugees in Turkey and, in particular, my daughter’s rights. The experience was quite educational, awareness-raising and very fun at the same time. I learned about how devastating it is for a girl younger than 18 years old to get married. I discovered my rights and my daughter’s rights. If girls get educated, the world will change,” says a mother who attended the “Girls at School, Futures are Safe” programme.

A father, who also joined the programme, found it very productive. “I learned a lot about legal sanctions and the dangers of early marriage for young girls. Together with other fathers, we understood the importance of educating our girls. I feel that the programme left a very positive impact on us and our lives,” said the father.

Sedagül Yavuz, Project Manager of the programme, states that since the root causes of marriages among young Syrian girls stem from the family environment, it is crucial to discuss the issue with girls’ parents. “Early marriages emerge as patriarchal pressure is still present at home. Girls are persuaded to marry to preserve their ‘honour,’ and they are also married to Turkish men with the purpose of establishing familial relations to protect themselves from discrimination. Also, as fathers are the ones who usually take a stand against coeducation – when girls and boys are schooled in the same class – we continue working with fathers for preventing CEFM in the second phase of the programme,” says Yavuz.

In this regard, the Association prepared for the second phase of the programme within the conditions of the pandemic. “The pandemic creates pros and cons regarding communication with vulnerable groups such as refugees. As we will conduct all the activities online, we are not dependent on a certain space and this enables us to reach more people, more fathers across Mersin,” mentioned Yavuz.

Flying Broom Women’s Communication and Research Association will also reach out directly to Syrian girls through an online campaign that portrays Syrian women role models who, thanks to their personal success stories, will increase girls’ self-confidence and interest in science, engineering and arts. “We started the role model initiative under the “Girls at School, Futures are Safe” programme to encourage Syrian girls living in Turkey to believe in themselves and understand that they are not alone,” says Yavuz.

For this initiative, the Association asked three Syrian women (a civil engineer who completed her studies in Turkey, one still continuing her education in food engineering, and an artist in painting and sculpture) to shoot encouraging videos in Turkish and Arabic. Fatima Abdi, who is one of the Syrian role models and an artist in painting and sculpture, addressed Syrian girls via a video and encouraged them to break stereotypes and not give up on their dreams.

Jana Zaben, a 14-year-old girl whose father and mother attended the programme, saw Fatima’s video and started to paint. “I’ve really liked painting since elementary school. I always paint during my spare time. When I watch Fatima’s video, I get inspired by her and her experiences and successes. Her video encouraged me to do better and to pursue my passion in arts,” says the girl.

“I really felt that I did a good thing by being a role model for girls. I went to university but couldn’t graduate, and after that we came to Turkey. I really wanted to finish school. I would like to meet with girls and tell them to stay in school and pursue their dreams, no matter what,” says Fatima Abdi.

“This is why, in the next phase of the programme, we would like to bring Syrian girls face to face with their role models in an online platform to hear their life stories and inspire each other,” says Yavuz.