Story

Despite Institutional Barriers, Syrian Women Reshape Lives

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The Jordanian town of Zarqa, approximately 24 kilometers northeast of Amman, is home to a disproportionately large number of Syrian refugees. Zarqa has become a more attractive option to Syrian refugees in part due to the lower living cost that the city offers. Over time, as many Syrian families left Amman for Zarqa, newly arrived Syrians opted for Zarqa as their primary choice of residence due to an existing Syrian community in the city. Zarqa is home to many networks of NGOs, including the Zarqa Life Center, which focuses on female empowerment through offering women a safe space from economic strife, domestic abuse, and more broadly the stress associated with raising a family while experiencing refugeeism in a foreign land. Image by Aman Madan. Jordan, 2017.

The Jordanian town of Zarqa, approximately 24 kilometers northeast of Amman, is home to a disproportionately large number of Syrian refugees. Zarqa has become a more attractive option to Syrian refugees in part due to the lower living cost that the city offers. Over time, as many Syrian families left Amman for Zarqa, newly arrived Syrians opted for Zarqa as their primary choice of residence due to an existing Syrian community in the city. Zarqa is home to many networks of NGOs, including the Zarqa Life Center, which focuses on female empowerment through offering women a safe space from economic strife, domestic abuse, and more broadly the stress associated with raising a family while experiencing refugeeism in a foreign land. Image by Aman Madan. Jordan, 2017. 

Refugeeism has been discussed extensively in both the academic literature and popular media with varying levels of intellectual depth. The intersectionality of the female with the refugee—two identities, when placed in conjunction to each other, create an entirely distinct lived experience—has not received the same extent of coverage. Zarqa Life Center is one place of many in the desert kingdom which focus on that particular intersectionality. The following photo series highlights the resiliency of a select group of Syrian women, who despite their circumstances—domestic abuse, violence, unemployment—keep smiling. There is a certain gender stereotype—rooted deep in patriarchal norms—that women and smiles are inseparable. The point of this photo series is not to reaffirm that derisive expectation, but rather challenge that by highlighting that despite our worst circumstances, life, within of itself, should be cherished. Perhaps we could all learn something from their examples.

These nine photographs will highlight the issue of ethnic tensions in Zarqa, individual women who continue to reshape their lives as they adjust to an onslaught of new circumstances and the opportunities a place like Zarqa Life Center offers to both these women, but also to their children who much too easily, and too often, fall prey to unemployment, radicalization, or networks of petty crime in the city. Each of these photographs carries a story—a story that people abandon in exchange for easily digestible news that provides quick and easy facts and figures on refugeeism. The stories in this photo series should not only be remembered, but rather told, as examples of both the beauty of the human spirit and the strength of the female.

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Over the last seven years, Syrian refugees have experienced considerable hate speech from native Jordanians (East-Bank Jordanians) and Palestinian-Jordanians. Many experts explain that hate speech in Jordan originates from nationalistic media outlets and consequently from individual Jordanians who view the influx of Syrians as a phenomenon that will upset the delicate sociopolitical and demographic balance of the desert kingdom. Jordan’s unemployment rate among young men also contributes to this form of xenophobia. Image by Aman Madan. Jordan, 2017.

Over the last seven years, Syrian refugees have experienced considerable hate speech from native Jordanians (East-Bank Jordanians) and Palestinian-Jordanians. Many experts explain that hate speech in Jordan originates from nationalistic media outlets and consequently from individual Jordanians who view the influx of Syrians as a phenomenon that will upset the delicate sociopolitical and demographic balance of the desert kingdom. Jordan’s unemployment rate among young men also contributes to this form of xenophobia. Image by Aman Madan. Jordan, 2017. 

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Reem is one woman of many at Zarqa Life Center who stands out. Her upbeat personality and contagious smile make it difficult to not want to know her story. She’s 30, has three children, and resides in a land that is, on some level, entirely foreign to her—Zarqa does not compare to her beloved Damascus. She found her way to Jordan during the war where she began working as a house maid for local residents. Image by Aman Madan. Jordan, 2017.

Reem is one woman of many at Zarqa Life Center who stands out. Her upbeat personality and contagious smile make it difficult to not want to know her story. She’s 30, has three children, and resides in a land that is, on some level, entirely foreign to her—Zarqa does not compare to her beloved Damascus. She found her way to Jordan during the war where she began working as a house maid for local residents. Image by Aman Madan. Jordan, 2017. 

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Shrouq is one particular Syrian woman who volunteered to speak with the Pulitzer Center. She’s originally from Damascus and came to Jordan in 2012. Despite leaving everything behind in Syria, today Shrouq manages her own business. From 10:00 to 3:00 in the afternoon, Shrouq sells handmade soap, trains other women to obtain the same skill set, and participates herself in making the soap—soap is a Levantine specialty and these women bring their own unique recipes for making the product. Image by Aman Madan. Jordan, 2017.

Shrouq is one particular Syrian woman who volunteered to speak with the Pulitzer Center. She’s originally from Damascus and came to Jordan in 2012. Despite leaving everything behind in Syria, today Shrouq manages her own business. From 10:00 to 3:00 in the afternoon, Shrouq sells handmade soap, trains other women to obtain the same skill set, and participates herself in making the soap—soap is a Levantine specialty and these women bring their own unique recipes for making the product. Image by Aman Madan. Jordan, 2017.

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Mariam (31), Alia (24), and Marwa (30) share their story of life during the Syrian War, their journey to Jordan, and their life today. Themes of economic strife, human loss, and female perseverance are a noticeable trend in most interviews. Image by Aman Madan. Jordan, 2017.

Mariam (31), Alia (24), and Marwa (30) share their story of life during the Syrian War, their journey to Jordan, and their life today. Themes of economic strife, human loss, and female perseverance are a noticeable trend in most interviews. Image by Aman Madan. Jordan, 2017.

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According to Zarqa Life Center, offering a safe space to women—both Syrian and Jordanian—has provided a critical outlet to children as well. Gertrude Khouri, the director at the center, explained to the Pulitzer Center, that they “saw a large number of women who had become heads of households.” Their “husbands were missing or had become victims.” Image by Aman Madan. Jordan, 2017.

According to Zarqa Life Center, offering a safe space to women—both Syrian and Jordanian—has provided a critical outlet to children as well. Gertrude Khouri, the director at the center, explained to the Pulitzer Center, that they “saw a large number of women who had become heads of households.” Their “husbands were missing or had become victims.” Image by Aman Madan. Jordan, 2017. 

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“There are no cafes where women can go to in old Zarqa,” says Khouri. “Now we offer some empowerment programs like crocheting, computer classes, hairdressing and soap making,” Khouri tells the Pulitzer Center.

While the women relax, socialize, or learn a different skill, the Zarqa Life Center has started “a pre-kindergarten program and a teenage girls club,” meaning that women who come to the center often no longer carry worries about who is taking care of and providing for their children in that moment.

With early education programs, which research shows makes children more likely to succeed in the future, Zarqa Life Center is addressing a major societal problem—that of boredom and lack of opportunity. Image by Aman Madan. Jordan, 2017.

“There are no cafes where women can go to in old Zarqa,” says Khouri. “Now we offer some empowerment programs like crocheting, computer classes, hairdressing and soap making,” Khouri tells the Pulitzer Center.

While the women relax, socialize, or learn a different skill, the Zarqa Life Center has started “a pre-kindergarten program and a teenage girls club,” meaning that women who come to the center often no longer carry worries about who is taking care of and providing for their children in that moment.

With early education programs, which research shows makes children more likely to succeed in the future, Zarqa Life Center is addressing a major societal problem—that of boredom and lack of opportunity. Image by Aman Madan. Jordan, 2017. 

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Shrouq sits in a small room across the street from Zarqa Life Center where she makes, organizes, and sells the soap she and her friends have produced at the center. Image by Aman Madan. Jordan, 2017.

Shrouq sits in a small room across the street from Zarqa Life Center where she makes, organizes, and sells the soap she and her friends have produced at the center. Image by Aman Madan. Jordan, 2017.

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A close-up shot of the traditionally Levantine soap Shrouq and other women at the center have produced for sale. Many women have different soap making recipes which results in a diverse assortment of aromas and shapes. Image by Aman Madan. Jordan, 2017.

A close-up shot of the traditionally Levantine soap Shrouq and other women at the center have produced for sale. Many women have different soap making recipes which results in a diverse assortment of aromas and shapes. Image by Aman Madan. Jordan, 2017.