Alaa Mohammed – Syrian journalist and a member of the Syrian Feminist Lobby
Between Gaziantep and Osmaniye, Safaa moves with her four children after losing her home in Antakya due to the earthquake that struck ten provinces in southern Turkey and areas in northern and central Syria, claiming the lives of around 60,000 people in both countries.
Safaa, 38 years old, a Syrian woman from Damascus, sought refuge in Turkey with her husband and children in 2014. She is an English teacher who worked for a period in temporary Syrian schools and then in Turkish schools. She eventually stopped working due to UNICEF’s support discontinuation for Syrian teachers.
As a result, her husband decided to migrate to Europe to secure a better life for their family, and she has been waiting for reunification for a year and a half.
Safaa says, “I’ve been in Antakya for nine years; it felt like my city. We got used to it. But now, we’re back to the displacement phase and searching for homes, and we can’t find any.”
She spends her days moving between her sister’s house in Gaziantep and her brother’s house in Osmaniye while she seeks a small place to shelter herself and her children.
Unfortunately, the southern regions are witnessing a significant increase in house rents and a decrease in available options due to the extensive damage caused by the earthquake.
Umm Hamdo, a Syrian widow from Homs who sought refuge in Antakya in 2015, lives with her son, his wife, and her three daughters. She miraculously survived the earthquake with her family. They lived on the fourth floor, but during the earthquake, their building collapsed, leaving their home on the first floor.
She went to stay with relatives in Kayseri, a central state in Turkey, but decided to return and buy a tent to live in because she couldn’t afford the cost of living in that state.
Umm Hamdo says, “Our relatives’ house is small, and their situation isn’t good. We stayed with them for a few days, then I decided to come back and live in this tent until God provides a solution.”
Living in a tent is not easy for Umm Hamdo and her daughters. She is very worried about them and cannot leave them alone.
Violence Amid the Catastrophe
Aisha, a Syrian woman and mother of three children, the youngest still an infant, resides in the province of Gaziantep in southern Turkey with her husband, who has subjected her to various forms of mistreatment and violence.
In the dawn, when the earthquake struck, Aisha tried to escape the house with her children, but her husband prevented her. He started to hysterically assault her, leaving visible bruises of the beating on her face and body for days.
Aisha says, “When the earthquake happened, we were terrified. I tried to leave the house with my children, but he wouldn’t let me. When I insisted, he started hitting me with all his might.”
Later, Aisha managed to escape from him and sought refuge in one of the mosques that opened to shelter people. She feared her husband would find her and forcibly take her back home.
As for Marwa, a young woman who used to reside in Karkhan, a city in southern Turkey that was entirely damaged by the earthquake, she was forced, along with her sisters and mother, to seek refuge in her brother’s house in the province of Sakarya.
Marwa says, “My brother used always to hit us. When we lost our home, and my mother told us we would go to my brother’s house, I felt fear and dread about returning to a life with him and his ill-treatment.”
Marwa and her family still live in her brother’s house, under the psychological pressure from the earthquake’s shock and the pressure exerted by her brother through his control over their mother and sisters.
Women experience various forms of violence during disasters, including sexual violence in shelters, fear of abduction, cases of harassment, partner abuse, verbal and economic violence, and theft.
The lack of privacy and the inability to access toilets or bathe are challenges women face, especially those currently living in camps, collective shelters, or shared apartments with multiple families.
Let’s not forget to address the mistakes some organizations have made during emergency responses, not considering women’s needs like “sanitary pads and underwear” as priorities that must be considered.