Lara Shaheen is a 34-year-old female Syrian refugee who ran away from Damascus after President’s Bashar al-Assad’s regime detained her brothers, though they were released after three months, the experience has driven them to Amman, Jordan. Along with her are her mother, father, and 17-year-old younger sister while her brothers escaped to Germany. After that nightmare, Shaheen’s parents developed some health problems, and that made her the sole provider for her family considering that her brothers are away from them.
Lara said, “I’m the lonely girl who must work to make money for my family.”
While on Jordan, she volunteered with Hemma- a local organization that provides help to Syrian refugees that live outside camps. The Syrian conflict now is in its sixth year, and it seems like banishment is becoming undying for refugees. Additionally, the majority of Syrian refugees cannot work legally in Jordan. Though they can apply for work permits, the process of getting them is very complicated and expensive.
On the other hand, the government carried out some measures that would benefit Syrian refugees. It includes a temporary waiver of application fees and a grace period of up to 90 days for the informal sector employers to get permits for Syrian refugees.
UNCHR said, “This could see up to 78,000 Syrians able to work legally in Jordan in the short term, and thousands more in the coming years.”
While working with Hemma, Lara Shaheen noticed that lots of Syrian women were weaving, sewing and making handy crafts. She took pictures of them and started selling them on Facebook. She then splits the profits with the women. With the help of her Jordanian friend, Shaheen developed the project into a small business, though she doesn’t have a work permit. She called it Syrian Jasmine, and then she rent a small office space in Amman town center.
Syrian Jasmine sells baby clothes, handmade soaps, toys, jewelry, creams and more that were all made by Syrians. She now has 5 women that work for her full time at the office and also buys merchandise from other Syrian women. Many of the women that Shaheen works with says this is their first job.
She said, “In Syria, many men don’t allow their women to work, but here, it’s different because they know they need to make money.”
Lara Shaheen’s and her employees’ story is far from the norm in Jordan. Because of the administrative barriers to working, women refugees face a high risk of assault and abuse like rape. According to reports, women refugees from Syria feels isolated and unsafe and even too scared to leave the house.
The lack of job opportunities and high risk of violence, a lot of Syrian families, sees marriage as the only way to keep their daughters safe which can also support them economically with the use of dowry exchange. Save the Children reported in 2014 that among Syrian refugees in Jordan, one in every four marriages is a girl under 18 years old to a much older man.