Her Weapon is Her Education

Being able to go out for a walk may be the greatest joy and entertainment she had for a while already. Photo: Plan International

While the world is closely monitoring the refugee crisis in Europe, the shouts from the other end of the world are ignored. After the breakout of the Syrian civil war in 2011, more than 1.5 million Syrians rushed into their neighbouring country, Lebanon.

We might have heard of the challenges encountered by refugees in their new homes, but have you ever imagined the life being a girl in those situations?

Just like any other refugees, Syrian refugee girls have to face the problems of overcrowded housing, racial discrimination and insufficient of resources. Yet, there are many more threats and harms ahead for them.

Plan International conducted a survey among 400 girls aged 10 to 19 in the area, in the aspects of housing, education, labour, freedom of movement, healthcare and safety, and the results are heartbreaking.

Statistics show about 90% of the girls shoulder the responsibility of household chores and some are required to work as a cleaner for houses and restaurants, or even begging on street to support the finance of their families. Workplace there is not as safe as Hong Kong’s, in contrast, full of child labour, exploitations and harassments. 57% of them felt ‘unsafe’ in their working environments, being forced to deal with the sexual harassments from their colleagues, their bosses or customers. And the tag of ‘refugee girl’ also provides them with much lower income.

Life for girls who do not have to work does not necessarily imply ‘better’ or ‘easier’. Since there are numerous cases of harassments, rapes, trafficking and drug dealing in the community, a lot of the families ban their girls from leaving the homes.

‘We are trapped at home,’ a 17-year-old said. Compared with her brothers, her freedom of movement is strictly confined. Not given any opportunity to make friends or going out, took away her rights as a child.

“Girls are our daughters, our mothers and half our society. We need to empower them through education and work so that they can raise better men.’’

Education is a powerful weapon to protect the girls in crisis. It equips them with the ability to make a living, to understand the world and more importantly to speak up in their communities and internationally.

Nonetheless, only 60% of girls are reported to attend school regularly. Others are pushed away by discrimination, unaffordable expenses, family opposition and child marriage.

‘They told us the school is full every time we told them our background as Syrian,” another 17-year-old said. The ‘lucky ones’ enrolled also have to deal with the harassments from schoolmates and scared many of the refugee girls.

Still, the girls keep fighting with their thirst for knowledge. They enjoy the rare occasion to leave the house, to spend time with their peers and teachers, and to change their lives. In the times of war and conflicts, they pick education as their weapon and strive for a moment of peace.

Plan International aims to stand for the rights of the girls, ensures them a chance of schooling, frees them from harassments and brings changes to their communities. At the same time, to expand the mission to every corner of the world, empowering every girl and giving every child a happy childhood.