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  • Kvinna till Kvinna supports a newly opened center for women in Killis, Turkey, near the Syrian border. Here, Syrian refugee women receive support and education and are also provided with a kindergarten. Photo: SFD Killis Center.

    Kvinna till Kvinna supports a newly opened center for women in Killis, Turkey, near the Syrian border. Here, Syrian refugee women receive support and education and are also provided with a kindergarten. Photo: SFD Killis Center.

  • Sewing is one of the crafts that the center organises trainings in. This, so the women will be able to support their families financially. Photo: SFD Killis Center.

    Sewing is one of the crafts that the center organises trainings in. This, so the women will be able to support their families financially. Photo: SFD Killis Center.

Women's center crucial for Syrian refugees

The conflict in Syria is forcing many people to flee. In the border town of Killis in Turkey, The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation supports a newly opened women’s center, that offers a meeting place for women. Here they get to deal with traumatic experiences and can learn basic crafts to earn some money.

Killis in southern Turkey is located eight kilometers from the Syrian border. Since Turkey opened its borders, the number of Syrian refugees has increased significantly. In Killis, a city with 90,000 inhabitants, there are now 100,000 refugees from Syria, mostly women and children.

First free women’s center

Killis used to have only one governmentally run women’s center, that targets Turkish speaking women and which you have to pay a fee for using. But women from Syria, who have not had time to learn Turkish and are short of money, has not had any place to go with their problems. Until three months ago. Then Soriyat for Development, SFD, with support from Kvinna till Kvinna, opened a new women’s center specialized in empowering women.

“Many Syrian women are looking for jobs to be able to support their children, but they lack knowledge and don’t have the right tools. In order to secure the needs of their family, some have to beg for money or even sell their bodies. At the center, we offer vocational courses – basic activities that eventually could become a source of income for them,” says Lubna Al Kanawati, one of the center’s employees.

Crafts and education

At the center – which also has a kindergarten – women can learn to sew, knit or how to become a hairdresser. The activities are also meant to provide the women with something to do, which helps them to reduce their anxiety. During October, the centre has also started having courses in Turkish, to increase the women’s chances of earning a living in Turkish society.

Many of the refugees carry severe traumas from what they have experienced in the war. Therefore, the center is also planning to start offering psychological support.

Another great need is education. Many of the refugees come from the rural areas around Idlib and Aleppo in Syria, where few have had access to education. In addition to learning Turkish at the center, the women can also take courses in writing, reading and using a computer. Furthermore, they can attend lectures and movie nights about women’s role in society and women’s rights activism. The aim is to give women tools to improve their lives and be able to take an active role in creating a future Syria.

“Job without dignity”

Currently, the situation in Killis is tense. A few of the newly arrived refugee men find jobs, but it is “job without dignity,” as Lubna Al Kanawati says.

“They work extremely long hours and receive minimal wages. For women, the opportunity to work is almost non-existent.”

The situation for the refugees in Killis is complex. On the one hand, people coming from Syria are thankful that there are not as many bombs in Turkey and that they get some help from the Turkish government, like health care. On the other hand, many feel like they have lost their dignity.

“Ask any Syrian, and they will say ‘I do not want to be here, I want to go home.’ The few jobs available are humiliating. People live in over-crowded, small places. Food is expensive. It’s a tough life,” says Lubna Al Kanawati.

Many visitors

In this difficult situation, the new centre has been welcome. Every day, 12-15 new women come and want to sign up for language or vocational courses. And they are not just Syrians. On several occasions, media has drawn attention to the center, which has led to it receiving visits from a number of Turkish organisations.

“There are strong tensions between the two groups, and we want this to be a place where Syrians and Turks can meet. The mayor, who was present at the opening of the center, asked us to start courses in Arabic for Turkish women. Everyone is glad that we exist,” says Lubna Al Kanawati.

But it is no easy task that they have taken on. The women who come to the center have lost more or less everything – some even their children. They risk being subjected to sexual harassment in the streets because they are Syrians. Some are forced to sell sex to survive.

What is it like for you to work in this context?

“It’s a very tough situation for everyone, us too, but we have to start somewhere. We are strong women and will contribute to change. We are trying to empower a small group of women, and if they can start supporting their own families, it would be a big thing for us. Then we are doing something important for the community,” says Lubna Al Kanawati.

Karin Råghall

Updated in: 2014-10-28

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