Feminist Analysis of the Syrian Refugee Crisis

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<p>10</p> <p>Gabriella FedericoETHICS 401Dr. Lisa KretzMarch 17, 2016</p> <p>A FEMINIST ANALYSIS OF THE SYRIAN REFUGEE CRISIS</p> <p>INTRODUCTION</p> <p>This paper is written right around the time of the fifth anniversary of the war in Syria. On March 15, 2011, protestors held a peaceful demonstration, without weapons, in Damascus to protest the way the regime was treating its citizens (Glass 2015, 1). A month before, the regime arrested and tortured some middle school boys who wrote anti-regime graffiti on the walls of their school (Glass 2015, 1). The demonstrations held against the regime were, in retrospect, the first few days of the civil war in Syria.Since those unforgettable days, hundreds of thousands of Syrian lives have been lost. The exact number is uncertain, since measuring an exact death toll is a difficult and arduous task, but many different groups have their own speculations. As of February 2016, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that 370,000 people have been killed in the conflict, while the Syrian Center for Policy Research believes the number is closer to 470,000, as of December 2015 (Taylor). To put those numbers into context, if the Syrian Center for Policy Research is correct, that is more deaths that the United States saw during World War II (By the Numbers).But not even these staggering stats do justice to the bloody horror of the Syrian war. Although these numbers calculate the approximate death toll, they do not summarize the amount of lives which have been irrevocably changed, often for the worse. An estimated 9,000,000 Syrian refugees have fled their country since the start of the conflict (Syrian Refugees). These refugees have found sanctuary in the United States, the European Union, Bulgaria, Sweden, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq (Syrian Refugees). Yet these numbers also do not take into account the Syrians trapped in their country, with no way of escaping the bombings, murders, kidnappings, and other horrific violations of human rights.Although I wrote that refugees are finding sanctuary in other countries, I nonetheless hesitate with that word. Indeed, these fortunate refugees have managed to escape being face-to-face with death on a regular basis. They no longer have to worry about barrel bombs being dropped on them unsuspectingly. They do not have to fear their family members suddenly disappearing, or being bombed to death in their sleep. It might seem simple to consider that because they have escaped the conflict and terrors of Syria, they are safe.However, refugees are amongst the most vulnerable populations in the world. They have no country, no home to return to, very little material possessions, and very little with which to start over. They are easily targeted by those who wish to exploit the refugees desperate situations. Often, when we speak about refugees, we consider them as an abstract number of scared people, without taking into consideration the specifics of their plights. It is difficult for people like myself, who sit comfortably in a nice, clean house, with windows open to let in the spring breeze, surrounded by safety and democracy and family and friends, to conceptualize the difficulties refugees face in their daily lives once they have escaped their homes.Even more difficult to consider are the horrors that subgroups of refugees, such as women, face on their journey towards rebuilding their lives. In section I of my paper, I will clearly define what I mean by feminist philosophy, and why it is a necessary lens. In section II I will outline not only the general problems refugees face, the gendered difficulties of women refugees. In section III I will discuss a plan of action I intend to take, to do what I can to help alleviate the sufferings of Syrians worldwide.</p> <p>IAn important question to begin with is, what exactly constitutes feminist philosophy? How does one approach an issue through a feminist perspective? Nancy Tuana points out that one of the crucial differences separating feminist philosophy from other philosophical theories is the fact feminist philosophy takes gender to be a foundational lens which transforms not only the methods used to approach the subject, but also the content itself (Tuana 2007, 21). Some of the particular questions asked in feminist philosophy are, what are the situations and locations of women; what are their roles in their culture; how do those roles compare to men; how are they valued or devalued; and what are they excluded from (Tuana 2007, 21)?The feminist philosophical perspective is crucial to my discussion of the Syrian refugee crisis. No other lens can adequately examine the situations refugee women experience which are unique to their gender the way feminist philosophy can. Other philosophical traditions do not have the adequate framework to evaluate the questions which need to be asked regarding women.IINow, what exactly are all these gender-specific issues women refugees face? First, when considering the situations of refugees, there are certainly general problems common for all, regardless of race, gender, or culture. Analyzing the general issues will help to place gender-specific issues into context.Beginning with mental health, refugees who have witnessed violence often experience some form of post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as psychosomatic issues like chronic pain (Kirmayer 2011, 959). They also have to learn to cope with the stress of migrating to a new culture or country, and the anxious uncertainty of not knowing whether or not they will be allowed refuge (Kirmayer 2011, 961). In some instances, refugees are kept in harsh prison conditions while their statuses are assessed, which can aggravate any existing mental health issues (Kirmayer 2011, 961). These issues of being controlled by others, and of uncertainty over their futures often lead to refugees experiencing depression and feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness (Kirmayer 2011, 961).With regard to physical health, refugees face heart disease, dental and vision problems, headaches, and allergies (Zieghan et al, 2013, 7). When they migrate to new countries, they have to face language barriers and not being able to communicate their problems to their physicians (Zieghan et al, 2013, 3). Furthermore, they have to learn the loops and angles of a completely new healthcare system (Zieghan et al, 2013, 3). All these particular issues place refugees at a disadvantage in society.There are numerous other problems which refugees face, which could fill up journals, so for the sake of length I shall not elaborate any further on general issues, though I will also note that refugees face problems of housing, immersing into a new culture, learning and new language, and adjusting to a new home while leaving their old lives behind. Within this general framework of refugee issues, I turn now to women-specific issues.One issue at the forefront of womens concerns is human trafficking (Melchior). While some vulnerable refugee women are kidnapped into the trade, others are desperate enough to voluntarily submit themselves, in order to migrate to another country (Melchior). Refugee women are pressured into survival sex, and will accept inhumane work for the sake of low wages (Nasr). Because of their isolation, and their lonely and desperate situations, women sometimes develop relationships, whether friendly or romantic, with smugglers posing as innocents (Nasr).One horrific report states how some smugglers will use pregnant women as a sort of security screen (Dearden). These smugglers are reported to throw pregnant refugee women off the refugee rafts so that commercial European ships are forced to rescue them, and the smugglers can bypass security (Dearden). In the worst and most heartbreaking cases, the European rescuers are only able to salvage a few living refugees, and are otherwise surrounded by the corpses of the vulnerable (Dearden).Furthermore, due to their culture, the women refugees are often the ones with children in tow. Consequently, when these women are fleeing their countries on flimsy rafts, they are forced to put their childrens lives at risk as well (Roberts). An anecdote of a Syrian refugee reveals how one woman had a grueling labor on a refugee raft beneath the hot sun, only to have it be a stillbirth. The babys corpse was consequently discarded into the sea.[footnoteRef:1] [1: Magnus Wennman, Where the Children Sleep, Aftonbladet (blog), accessed 16 March 2016, http://darbarnensover.aftonbladet.se/chapter/english-version/.] </p> <p>Finally, these refugee women face gender-specific disadvantages once they migrate to new countries. Often in their culture, they are kept within the bounds of the privacy of the home. They nurture their children and maintain the wellbeing of their homes (Stanton et al, 2012, 318). They are not given the opportunities to study English like their male counterparts, nor are they able to get a very formidable education in general (Moghadam 1997, 13). Consequently, when they have to move to a new country, they are unable to assimilate as easily as their male counterparts, because they were not given the necessary tools. Thus, not only are these women vulnerable because they are refugee women; they are vulnerable because they are refugee women from a culture which keeps women systematically oppressed and at a complete disadvantage educationally and career-wise.Having laid the groundwork of a small portion of the issues women refugees face, I believe it is clear why a feminist lens is necessary to assess these issues. Feminist philosophy, first of all, recognizes women as significant moral agents, and equal to men. Thus, their issues are capable of being equally considered. Second, feminist philosophy recognizes that the private home life, which is often associated with the feminine, matters just as much as the public political life, which is often associated with the masculine. Thus, feminist philosophers analyze the existing background conditions of women refugees, and where they are coming from in their society. Finally, feminist philosophy considers what womens abilities within their culture are, so thus, feminist philosophers are aware of the social and political marginalization and oppression women face, which place them at an even more grievous disadvantage than their male counterparts.IIIFeminist philosophy encourages the theory that we are all bound together by a web of relationships. Consequently, we are responsible for caring for each other, and being aware of the issues present in other cultures which are not our own. Because of this understanding, I realized that the first step towards an action project which will help address the Syrian refugee crisis is education.Many are completely ignorant or misinformed about the conflict. Furthermore, because we as an American society are recovering from 9/11 and the War on Terror, there is existing bias towards those from the Middle East. Ignorance of the Middle Eastern culture combined with the fear of what we do not know results in apathy about the Syrian refugee crisis. I realized that if people are going to care about getting involved and doing something, then they must first know that there is something to care about, and that they should care about it.I propose that one of the best ways for us in Evansville, Indiana, to address the Syrian refugee problem is through an educational format. I feel that it would not necessarily be strategically significant to begin with womens issues, because people must be able to put womens issues in a larger cultural context before they can truly understand them. I want to educate the community firstly on the Syrian culture and secondly on the Syrian war and consequent refugee crisis.In order to achieve this, I propose we hold a series of lectures which cover significant issues within the Syrian crisis. These lectures will delve into topics of the historical and political conflict of the Syrian war, the nature and role of the religion of Islam, the refugee crisis itself, and what we as a community can do to help. From these lectures, the public will be able to gain an understanding of the complexity of issues which has led to the Syrian conflict. Furthermore, they will have the opportunity to have their questions answered by the guest lecturers, which will better facilitate their grasping of the issue, and the opening of their hearts.I also believe a lecture series will help to give the Syrian community present at the University of Evansville a sense of hope that we are listening to the plight of their people, and we want to help. Before arranging these lectures, I will get feedback from the Syrian students in order to hear what topics they think are important, and how they want these topics presented. This intention is in line with feminist philosophy, since a core tenant of feminism is to avoid paternalism, and instead hear what a culture wants for themselves.Although there may not be a lecture on feminist issues in this lecture series, due to the lack of an adequate presenter, in the bigger picture, I hope that the lecture series will continue annually, and that an opportunity for a feminist analysis will arise. Since refugee women account for half the population of refugees, I believe ignoring their particular issues borders on a human rights injustice. I hope that, through educating the community through the lecture series, the minds and hearts of individuals will be opened, and compassion and care will eventually heal the wounds caused by the bloody, traumatic horrors of the Syrian war.</p> <p>BIBLIOGRAPHY</p> <p>Boyd, Monica and Elizabeth Grieco. Women and Migration: Incorporating Gender intoInternational Migration Theory. 1998: 1-7.</p> <p>By the Numbers: Worldwide Deaths. National WWII Memorial. Accessed 16 March 2016.http://www.nationalww2museum.org/learn/education/for-students/ww2-history/ww2-by-the-numbers/world-wide-deaths.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/.</p> <p>Carens, Joseph H. Refugees and the Limits of Obligation. Public Affairs Quarterly 6, no. 1(1992): 31-44.</p> <p>Dearden, Lizzie. Migrant Boat Crisis: Human Smugglers 'Throwing Pregnant Women andChildren Overboard to Drown to Force Commercial Ships to Rescue Them.' Independent. Last modified 1 June 2015. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/migrant-boat-crisis-human-smugglers-throwing-pregnant-women-and-children-overboard-to-drown-to-force-10290183.html.</p> <p>Edwards, Alice. Human Rights, Refugees, and the Right To Enjoy Asylum. InternationalJournal of Refugee Law 17, no. 2 (2005): 293-330.</p> <p>Glass, Charles. Syria Burning: ISIS and the Death of the Arab Spring. New York: OR Books,2015.</p> <p>Guruge, Sepali and Nazilla Khanlou. Intersectionalities of Influence: Researching the Health ofImmigrant and Refugee Women. Canadian Journal of Nursing Research 36, no. 3(2004): 32-47.</p> <p>Indra, Doreen Marie. Ethnic Human Rights and Feminist Theory: Gender Implications forRefugee Studi...</p>


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