Women’s Funding Network Webinar: Power Of Witness – Feb 4 2016

Thanks to everyone who listened to this morning’s Women’s Funding Network: Power Of Witness Webinar, below  is a transcript of the recording

Power of Witness – women, children, and the Syrian refugee crisis – Women’s Funding Network webinar


WFN: Women’s Funding Network is thrilled and honored to host Jane Sloane today. She is the Vice President of programs at Global Fund for Women which is a grant-making organization focusing on human rights for women and girls. Jane previously worked as a Vice President of development with Women’s World Banking in New York and prior to that she was the Executive Director of the International Women’s Development Agency supporting women’s rights organizations across the Asia and the Pacific region.

In October 2015 a few short months ago Jane and a few of her colleagues from Global Fund for Women spent about a month traveling around Istanbul, Turkey and Egypt to meet with women’s groups to join a convening of Syrian women activists and to bear witness to life in two refugee camps for women and girls in southern Beirut.

Jane is also a prolific writer and wrote extensively about this trip on her blog Janeintheworld.com. When we read her post it was clear that her experiences needed a wider audience so we invited her in because we wanted to give everyone in the network the opportunity to hear Jane’s stories and to talk to her about how this rising conflict in the Middle East is affecting women and girls in particular. Ok so without further ado I will hand the mic over to Jane and she’ll get us started.

In October 2015 a few short months ago Jane and a few of her colleagues from Global Fund for Women spent about a month traveling around Istanbul, Turkey and Egypt to meet with women’s groups to join a convening of Syrian women activists and to bear witness to life in two refugee camps for women and girls in southern Beirut. Jane is also a prolific writer and wrote extensively about this trip on her blog janeintheworld.com.

When we read her post it was clear that her experiences needed a wider audience so we invited her in because we wanted to give everyone in the network the opportunity to hear Jane’s stories and to talk to her about how this rising conflict in the Middle East is affecting women and girls in particular. Ok so without further ado I will hand the mic over to Jane and she’ll get us started.

Jane Sloane: Well hello everyone it’s such a privilege to be here today and I really want to thank Women’s Funding Network for providing this opportunity. I also want to acknowledge my colleagues from Global Fund for Women including Zahra Vieneuve our program officer for Middle East and North Africa who’s recently rejoined Global Fund for Women and of course our colleagues from many peer organizations.

I know there’s already a lot of expertise from those who are joining this conversation and I want to be able to provide you with an overview with enough time for what I hope is a dialogue on what’s happening both in the Middle East and particularly in the refugee camps during this time.


When we were heading to the Middle East for this trip we were initially supposed to go into Ankara and the day that we were due to fly out was of course the day that the bombs hit there. So again it really just brought home the volatility of the region and we were due to meet with a number of our grantee partners there and of course then had to divert to Istanbul. One of the women who was part of one of the grantee groups that we supported, actually lost her legs as part of that bombing. She was a journalist who was developing another film. So again it was very personal for us in terms of what happened there and it brought a new urgency to the conversations in Istanbul.

We were in Istanbul to both listen and learn from our grantee partners there and also particularly to join a convening that was organized by MADRE an organization based in New York that’s been working for many years with Syrian and Iraqi women activists. We co-funded a forum with MADRE and with Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in order to be able to bring Syrian and Iraqi women activists together. To speak about their experience, both, some of them in escaping ISIS and other armed groups as well as those that were creating an underground network to be able to keep women and girls safe from ISIS.


It was also particularly important to bring these women together at this time to really work with them and to prepare them for their own testimony before the UN Human Rights Committee as well as the UN Security Council’s review of Syria and iraq’s compliance with UN Security resolution 1325 which of course is to really ensure that women are assuming more leadership positions in relation to peace keeping and peace-building.


And so it was a really important opportunity to hear the testimony from these women as well as to support them to forge a closer network both as Syrian activists, as Iraqi women activists and to identify what we needed to do as organizations to better support them in their work.

These women were also talking about the need to really create a technology platform so that they could more quickly get information about what was happening on the ground and to be able to pivot to be able to dismantle facilities and be able to increase access and safe havens for women and girls who were as I said before escaping armed groups and escaping ISIS as well.


What was also really important was to hear the testimony of those who had been most effected by ISIS. There was one young woman who came with a man, a Yazidi young woman and she actually didn’t speak at the whole convening until the last 30 minutes of the convening and she then stood up before we were due to finish and she said to us,

“nearly all of my family has been killed, my mother, my father, two of my brothers. Isis killed all the men, they raped all the women, they raped me, they raped my sister and I was kept captive until May of 2015. I was moved from one place to another and the person who is keeping guard was planting explosive devices for Isis as we moved. Then I finally managed to escape and now I’m in a camp with other Yazidi people.”

She said, “you know I always imagined I would be with my own people and that I would be in a fairly sheltered and protected environment for most of my life and now all of that is gone and I realized that I can’t be silent and that I have to speak out and I have to for the rest of my life be an activist for my people and particularly for other girls and young women who’ve experienced the brutality of ISIS as I’ve experienced it, who have lost other family members.”


So you’ll see in this slide, Louzina is not her real name, it’s the name she asked to be known as while she was giving her testimony because it’s still not safe for her and many other young women, but she told us how much being present at this convening gave her strength and courage for the time ahead and she was in the company of other women who also said that they wouldn’t be able to return to their homes after this convening because it would be too dangerous for them, that they would have to go to a new place in their organizing in order to be able to keep doing the work that they were doing.

It was a vitally important convening for these women both in terms of understanding how they could present their testimony through these United Nations forums as well as to connect with other women in their community and to know that they could forge a closer relationship and network in the time ahead.

We spent more time with other grantee partners in Istanbul. I won’t talk to you about that today because of the lack of time. We travelled from Istanbul to Beirut in Lebanon to really spend time with our grantee partners that have been working inside the refugee camps. I want to make it clear that Global Fund for Women isn’t a… we are not a crisis organization.

The way that we work is to really support women’s rights groups that we’ve been supporting for many years in terms of their organizing and their activism but because of the crisis, because of the refugee crisis many of the groups that have been working with refugees have had to expand their work and have had to really deal with just a phenomenal influx of people and particularly women and children that they are dealing with.

So the way that we work is to provide these groups the funding to be able to sustain their activism and the strength of their organizing during this time as well as to, of course to network. Network very closely with other women’s groups so that they are not only providing that support on the ground through the services that they provide but they’re also working to influence policies and to be able to change the environment that women and girls experience on the ground.

So we visited two refugee camps in Lebanon and, just again to bring it home, only three weeks after we left the camps, one of the areas where we had visited was bombed.

Forty people were killed, that was a couple of weeks before the Paris bombing as well. Again it just speaks to the incredible volatile environment and fragile conditions in which so many people are living. If you can imagine some 37,000 people crammed into less than a mile, then you’ve got some idea of how crowded these facilities are and then of course they’re built originally to hold only about three thousand people so the overcrowding in these camps is just beyond anything that you could possibly imagine.

It’s also as a result of that overcrowding that the level of violence in the camps is so high, but just to paint a picture for you of what it’s like walking into the camps.

There all these electric wires that are just strung together and because the families in the camps don’t have access to any electricity what they do is they connect up their own electric wires into a system of electric wires, you can see it on screen now, in order to be able to have some form of power.

The problem is that these wires are only a foot or two ahead of when you’re walking through and every couple of weeks someone else get electrocuted; particularly when it rains. it means that people are stepping in puddles, if the wires are hanging down then someone else get electrocuted.

Because of the trauma inside the camps because of the level of violence people have just normalized these situations. They just now take it for granted. It’s the same with the other conditions. They’ve just now reached a position where so much of what happens there is what they see as their lives. There is a sense of when you look into their eyes of women and others in the camp when you are walking through, their eyes are just dead because they really feel like there is no hope.

There’s also no fresh drinking water inside the camps so it means that all of the water needs to be brought into the camps. People need to be able to earn some form of income in order to be able to access food and water.

The lead UN agency, the UN Relief and Work Agency has the responsibility of providing basic food and water for people in the camps but as a result of what’s happening in Europe it means that there is less money now coming to that UN agency because a lot of the European donors, in particular, have pulled out their aid funding and they are redirecting the funding back to their own countries.

So that means there’s less money in the Middle East being directed to support refugees who are in those camps and just needing access to those basic supplies. I should also say that the Lebanese government has also identified some 70 jobs that refugees aren’t entitled to undertake so it means that they are only able to undertake the most menial jobs dealing with sewerage and plumbing and it’s mainly the men who are doing that outside of the camps. So that’s the only form of income that’s then brought back into the camps and regenerated within the camps in terms of the micro businesses that are created.

As a result of the incredible over- crowding and frustration and the lack of hope, there’s a high level of domestic violence in the camps. Many women spoke to us about the fact that they really felt that it was better that their husbands hit them than hit out at anyone else in the camps.


They often saw themselves as kind of human shields protecting others and particularly children from their husbands anger and rage. As one of the women leading the work of one of our grantee partners said to us the problems of the parents pour themselves into their children including the violence perpetuated in the camp.

So it means that creating safe spaces for women to know their rights and to be able to, particularly for Syrian women who in many instances are much more submissive than some of the Iraqi women refugees, some of the Palestinian and Lebanese women refugees in the camps. The Syrian women are learning that they have rights and how to advocate to their husbands for their own rights. Also to encourage their husbands join one of the groups that are also established by some of our grantee partners so that the men learn how to control their anger and learn that by violating their wives and children, they’re also violating themselves.

So that work of really helping families and communities and children deal with violence in the camps is absolutely critical to them really having a sense of hope as well as obviously better health and feeling like there’s a different kind of life available to them, even in the camp.


There’s so much to say about the children in the camps as well, and I should say, with the violence, there was one woman who spoke to us about every time she saw her child she saw her husband in her child. Her husband who had beat her every day had beat her every day and so, again, supporting, providing that psychosocial support and trauma support so that the women can feel safe, the men can feel safe, their children can feel safe.

The other thing is the graffiti in the camps is actually graffiti to encourage children to yell out, particularly girls to yell out if ithey are touched or pulled out by a man and that’s because of the increase in trafficking within the camps and Syrian girls, in particular, are taught not to scream and not to make loud noises in their own culture, at least that what we were told by some of our grantee partners. And so it means these girls in particular having to relearn their own behavior and having to learn how to scream and yell if they are grabbed by a stranger in order that they’re not then taken out and quite often taken out to the Gulf countries and sold off or provided to men there.

The other thing that is happening more often in the camps that we heard about from women’s rights groups is an increase in child marriage where parents are wanting to keep their daughters safe and so feeling like the best way is to marry then off so that they feel safe, and so again working with parents to really address these ideas of safety and security for their daughters is really important.

The other thing of course is because of the lack of access to money for contraception, the lack of access to healthcare within the camps many women are just getting pregnant on a continual basis which means that they are exhausted that they don’t have access to the kind of support they need and we also heard from women who had given birth to deformed babies because of lack of nutrition in the camps and lack of access to support.


And as a result of that, it meant that they were having to medicate these babies almost to a vegetative state in order to cope with the sheer number of children that they had and the number of demands and issues that they were experiencing inside the camps.


So the role of the women’s groups we’re supporting is just so vitally important.

There aren’t many organizations that are really paying attention to the needs of women in the camps. There’s more support being provided in terms of children psychosocial support but really recognizing that…it’s very easy to see women just as victims inside the camps.Recognizing women’s role as leaders, as connectors, as community builders, as solution


Recognizing women’s role as leaders, as connectors, as community builders, as solution builders, is really important. Women are so much at the frontline. As you saw in the beginning, those statistics, the sheer number, 4 out of 5 of refugees are women and children and so women play an absolutely vital role and one of the reasons for that is that men are often engaged in the armed groups, they’re often engaged in getting to Europe trying then to bring the rest of their families along with them.

That means that there is a disproportionate number of women and children in these camps. So the work of our grantee partners is not only working to support women and men to address the violence in the camps but also to provide women with access to tools and training so that they can start and create their own micro businesses. Our grantee partners are not providing money directly to families because they don’t want women to be passive recipients, they want women to be able to play an active role and to start using their talents and their skills in a dynamic way.


And so providing support to women by providing sewing machines by providing the tools to start their own yogurt business, their own sweet business, providing women the support to be able to make curtains, create knitted garments.


All of that makes a difference because it means that if men are bringing money inside from the they organize outside the camps, women can then buy things with the products and services that they are creating and that means they’ve got money for contraception, they’ve got money to support their children’s education, they’ve got money to be able to expand their businesses and therefore earn more income as well. So that work of economic security is really vital to a sense of sustained hope for the women and of course it helps them create their own communities inside the camps which is also really important for them – feeling like there is a life beyond.

One of our grantee partners was also supporting a group that was organised by something called I Move Foundation and it was a women who came to one of the women’s groups and suggested that she start a yoga class inside one of the camps and you’ll see here some of the children that are learning yoga moves. It was so incredible to spend time with these children in these yoga classes, and as someone who loves practising yoga myself I felt like I was in my element.

What was really important was hearing the testimony of these children some of whom said, “when I first came into the camp I was drawing pictures of bombs and all my pictures were black.” One of the children was talking about after coming to these yoga classes she was drawing flowers and trees with green and different colors and she was showing me theses pictures and again she spoke about the fact that these classes were giving new life and energy to children. One of the children said ”I’ve made new friends now one”, “I can sleep now and I’m dreaming of animals and spirit life when I dream”, and another young girl said, “I feel I am happy when I move.”


It was quite profound to see how some of these really simple interventions can make such a difference, both for the children and then as a result for their parents who also started joining the classes. So you’ll see a picture of one of the teachers who started the yoga classes there.


What I think is also really important, and it speaks to that point I made before about the money that is now being pulled out of the camps in the Middle East and being re-directed by donors to the situation in Europe, is the complexity of the situation but also the fact that I was in a group the other day and that group was speaking about the fact that they really felt that they needed to provide funding to groups that we’re dealing with the situation in Europe because of the crisis there.

I think it’s often easier to imagine connecting with groups of people who look like ourselves or who are located in Europe rather than located in the Middle East and so dealing with our own fears of the other and dealing with our own fears of what it might be like to engage with communities in the Middle East is I think really important. Because we have to understand why money is shifting so rapidly from supporting the terrible situation in the Middle East to just supporting the situation in Europe which of course is also devastating, but we can’t also ignore what is happening and what is being perpetuated in the Middle East as well and I think that’s it’s really important that we pay attention to that in terms of how we best respond.

I’m also very conscious of the fact that a lot of the funding is being provided to support the refugee crisis is gender blind. That there isn’t often a conversation about how the situation is affecting women and girls differently to men and boys. Really paying attention to those dimensions in the way that women are involved in coming up with solutions, in the way that girls are impacted particularly in relation to issues such as trafficking, and how we might better support women’s groups that have the deep knowledge and cultural context to be able to engage in those camps. Rather than just supporting some of the larger organizations that don’t necessarily have those relationships with women on the ground.

I think also just connecting and being aware of the link with climate change and the gender dimensions round climate change and issues around food, land and water security as they play out.


What our grantee partners are doing is really supporting women to not only survive and assume more leadership positions and voice within the camps, but contribute to thinking about the broader policy dimensions and how to influence the policies of the Lebanese government. For instance, in terms of who can work and how they can work, accessing or getting involved in policy dialogues around access to education, access to healthcare and contraceptive support. So those conversations and support for women in the camps is really vitally important so that they feel like they are contributing to policies beyond their own lives inside the camps.


People often ask when they hear about the situation, when we paint a picture about how dire the conditions are in the camps and say, “Well it’s just an overwhelming situation, what can I as one person do? How can I best respond?”

There are a number of things one person can do. There are 5 things that we’ve just identified for the purposes of this conversation today.

One is to just continue the dialog. If you are able to host your own webinar, invite someone from Global Fund for Women or another organization that you know is doing great work in the camps and in the Middle East to speak about what’s happening, in order to really encourage others to have a better appreciation of the issues that are at stake here. That would be incredibly valuable. It’s really opening up the conversation, that helps to open up options and addressing the conflicts that we might have within our thinking is as important as addressing the conflicts on the ground.

Becoming an active advocate on social media is also really important. Social media is really defining a lot of the conversations and the dialog. It can also play a really critical role in holding governments and other donors to account. So recognizing how powerful and important that is and signing on to petitions making sure that you’re tracking the work of Women’s Funding Network, Global Fund for Women, both of whom have a very active social media presence.

Supporting the organizations and funding the work of organization you know are paying attention to the specific needs of women and children refugees but are also going beyond that work and they’re helping to support the long-term efforts that will sustain women and girls human rights in the region.

Beyond that direct funding support, asking other donors what they’re doing to pay attention to the gender dimensions of the crisis and how they are supporting the needs of women and girls as distinct from men and boys. Do they have gender-inclusive policies and programs. So becoming an informed donor yourself in terms of the questions you’re asking is really important.

Then of course, it’s paying attention to the political dimensions, helping to influence the direction of US policy as much as the direction of broader global policy. So it’s starting by asking your local member what they’re doing to contribute to solutions around US refugee policy and letting them know that you care about this issue.

I’ve been involved in the past in things like an adopt a politician campaign where many organizations have got together to track the attitudes of individual politicians and then to map that out, so you can really hold politicians across a whole country to account in terms of their attitudes and then share that information on social media. So there are very creative ways to be able to make that connection between US policy and what’s happening globally.

I think that’s also why Global Fund for Women is so proud to be a member of Women’s Funding Network because again it’s a very tangible way of connecting work that happens with many women’s funds inside the US together with the international members of the Women’s Funding Network including Global Fund for Women and the work we are doing globally. I think all of you on the call today have that connection with Women’s Funding Network. it’s probably a good time for me to stop and hand it over to the wonderful facilitators here this morning in terms of questions that people may have, who have joined this call today.

WFN: A question I have is what kind of structures are in place in these camps for children to kind of have any formalized education or is it all very informal. {garbled}

Jane Sloane: Yes that’s such a great question. There’s very little access for families inside the camps to education outside the camps unless they’ve got the money and means to make that possible. It means that groups, both our grantee partners have been supporting families and groups inside the camps to create that informal education environment. There are people in the camps who are teachers and so they are really committed to trying to sustain children’s education and we saw some of those lessons being played out in some of the makeshift rooms inside the camps and so there is a form of rudimentary education happening for children but not in any way at the level which you would hope and imagine. And of

And of course, this means that we face the situation of losing another generation of children in terms of their lack of access to education. So it’s not just their lack of access to healthcare and better conditions but that lack of access to education and of course if you can imagine the desperation inside the camps. Unless we pay attention to the needs of families inside the camps, they are more vulnerable to armed groups, they’re more vulnerable to ISIS.

Many of these individuals want to take the first ticket out of the camps themselves and so we’re actually creating a kind of perfect storm by not providing more funding to support the situation in the camps and to advocate for different policies because it means that if more of these groups end up being vulnerable to extremist forces then we are not only losing another generation of children we’re actually perpetuating the conflict.

We’re actually perpetuating the level of crisis in the world and so we have to recognize that this is something that affects all of us, it’s not just something affecting populations on the other side of the world. It’s actually something that’s going to affect the future of the world. So paying attention to all of those dimensions of conflict is vitally important to us in terms of our own humanity as much as the future of the world and the future of those children in terms of their education.

WFN: I sometimes find it hard sitting here trying to imagine what life is like for everyone. I don’t have a sense of how long people, I mean how long do people spend in these camps. Are families growing up in these camps?

Jane Sloane: I think that is part of the psychological sense of families inside the camp, you know there is a kind of passivity by some families that they are likely to be there for a long time.

That equates to the deadness I saw in the eyes of many people in the camps that they recognise that there’s not going to be any easy way out soon. I think that’s why the work of women’s groups that we’re supporting inside the camps is so vital because they are really re-igniting a sense of not only women knowing their own rights but being able to act on that and recognizing that even though the situation is dire in the camps, they still have a choice about their bodies, they can still advocate for their rights to their husbands, they still can build, create their own businesses, they can still form their own communities, they can still come together to advocate for policy change.

Even though the world within the camps is quite confined being connected to a bigger world through the work of women’s rights groups is really important to be able to imagine themselves differently and then, of course, their children take their cue from their parents. If the children are seeing their mothers and their fathers break out of that cycle of violence and re-engage and establish their own businesses and find ways be able to create education, yoga, health opportunities, then the children themselves have a different form of life and become more engaged in artistic as well as educational activities.

It’s kind of a microcosm of how we respond to other situations in the world. Some families do leave the camps, it again speaks to the fact that men often form the kind of forward brigade in managing to get to Europe and men finding a way for their families to join them. A lot of families just feel like there’s no… and of course, remembering that it’s a mix of different cultures. It’s Syrian, Iraqi, Palestinian, Lebanese groups within the camps and for Palestinian refugees they’ve already had to leave their homeland. They’ve then had to leave Syria, they’ve then often established or been in camps between the border of Syria and Lebanon and then they’ve had to again reintegrate themselves inside this camp.

So there have been multiple upheavals and you know that sense of home becomes really challenging and compromised when you’re having to uproot yourself all the time and then re-establish yourself in very traumatic situations.

WFN: I see a couple more questions coming in. Thank you.  Jane, how do you think the abductions and the traffickers can be stopped? That’s the first question which is probably a challenging one.

Jane Sloane: I think again that’s why the work of women’s group inside the camp has been so important. Once women know their rights, once men are dealing with issues of violence themselves, it actually has made it easier for them to form close alliances and community organizing groups within the camps.

You know they’re organizing groups around the food, access to water, access to education. Women are such natural organizers and they organize relationally as well.

Organizing groups to be able to teach children how to keep themselves safe and then a kind of an early warning system and a rapid response system for these situations inside the camps. And of course groups become very attuned to strangers coming into the camps as well.

The better women are able to express and organize themselves the greater the chance that they able to stop people from coming in and setting up those trafficking rings. But of course the trafficking is also tied to poverty and so providing families with more opportunities to be able to keep themselves safe is really important in order they not be in any way be responsive to traffickers or those that are offering a way out of the camps as well. So it’s really important and also, of course, really complex.

WFN: Ok another question coming in. For those of us who are in the US right now there has been a lot of hype, a lot of action around the presidential debates and one question coming in says why do you think refugee policy hasn’t really shown in the presidential debate? Why does it seem to be all about immigration policy?

Jane Sloane: You know I think again it does come back in part to issues of our known world and responding to issues that are really based on fear. I think people are really engaged quite often when it comes to things like presidential elections, in issues that they relate to personally and I think understanding how the refugee crisis really affects us personally in terms of our future, the future of the world and the way we see ourselves, the way that we see other people is really important.

I think that’s why I think having these conversations is so important. I don’t think that candidates themselves feel that it’s a top-line issue for people in the US so they haven’t themselves brought it out as a top-line issue in terms of what they say they’re advocating for and standing for.

You know in my own country Australia, I remember years ago when we were facing a situation with Vietnamese boat people. There was such a strong resistance from Australians at that time. It was something like 90% of Australians didn’t want to welcome Vietnamese boat people to Australia despite the urgency and the devastating conditions that they were facing.

But our Prime Minister at the time it, was actually the equivalent of a republican, Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser made the decision that Australia would accept a huge number of Vietnamese boat people because he said he knew it was the right thing to do, it was the moral thing to do and I think it is a time for moral courage in this country in terms of both the leadership as well as what we can step up to do as citizens.

We’re in a new time now with social media where we can form a very strong citizen movement where we can advocate to politicians and we’ve seen that, we saw it with President Obama being elected, we’re seeing this now with Bernie Sanders in particular. So, it’s time and that is why there’s so much excitement around citizen organising. There isn’t any reason why we as citizens can’t make it a presidential issue if we decide here and now we’re going to make it so.

WFN: So a couple more questions we have time for a couple more questions. The next one is what’s the connection between the activists you met at the MADRE convening some perhaps have escaped camps and conflict and the work that’s happening in the camps?

Jane Sloane: Yes that’s a really good question I think that there’s a number of things I can say in response to that. One of the reasons why we wanted to support this convening and co-fund the convening was to really build a stronger relationships with MADRE, with Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and the other organisations that were part of organising that convening as well. Because we do want to better support the work of women’s groups that work both inside and outside the camps to raise awareness of the conditions women are experiencing both in escaping ISIS and other armed groups and then quite often landing inside the camps where they have more of a safe place to rest than outside the camps.

Being able to get representation from women inside the camps and women working as activists outside the camps is really important and that’s where funding movement of women’s rights groups is really important and that is very much the work of Global Fund for Women.

We don’t just fund individual women, we don’t just fund individual women’s groups. We fund cohorts of women’s groups that are forging strong movements to change – in this case the human rights of women in the Middle East and Iraqi and Syrian women activists particularly in this instance. Advocating for policy change in order to ensure that women and girls are kept safe, whether they are inside the camps or outside the camps. And so that connection – it’s also why forging that strong network and supporting that network, both as a physical network also as an on-line network for women both inside and outside the camps so that they can better share information and intelligence – is important.

WFN-Webinar-Power-of-Witness_25WFN: One more question coming in – How do people spend their time in the camps?

Jane Sloane: Gosh, I didn’t see a lot of leisure time, I’ve got to say. For families inside the camps a lot of the time is spent really dealing with basic necessities, dealing with – as I mentioned there’s only salty water in the camps so there are groups that are responsible for organizing bringing that clean water into the camps.

Quite often liaison with the UN bodies but also separate to that because as I said, there’s not enough funding coming through multilateral organizations. Organizing, preparing food, both for their own families as well as to sell in order to be able to generate some sort of income. Creating the micro businesses that women are forming, are important.

The work groups I spoke about before are also about keeping children safe. Dealing with latrines and dealing with the cleanup operations when it rains because of course with water on the ground there is increased risk of electrocution because of the connection between the water and those electric wires I spoke about.

Volunteers, help with teaching children as well. There are women outside of the camps who come in to help with that psycho-social support. Organizing of support groups, groups looking after babies as well, I mentioned that as well –the number of babies that are medicated, also having meetings with women’s groups that are working for those policy changes that I spoke about before and forming those alliances.

There is plenty to keep families and individuals occupied. It’s more getting enough rest I think – if you can imagine the noise, the constant noise and activity inside those camps and just trying to get enough rest to deal with daily life is really important.

WFN: So how do people in Lebanon, who are not refugees, how do they feel about the camps?

Jane Sloane: I think that the attitudes they are very mixed there are those – some people who are actually donating and volunteering their time to provide support.

There are those who were initially sympathetic who are now very angry and frustrated because they feel that it’s draining resources from their own government and who are advocating strongly. You know I think it does speak to the broader issue about the fact that we really need a global compact so that it’s not just those countries that are closest to the Syrian border that are taking the lion’s share of the load.

We need a compact where every country in the world agrees to take it’s fair share, a quota of refugees from Syria and other refugees, in order that the load not be so acute with countries like Lebanon and Turkey and Yemen of course is also experiencing incredible challenges.

I think we need to be advocating for that kind of global compact. But I think there is an escalating concern in Lebanon about the sheer numbers of people and what it means in terms of a diversion of resources from the needs of other Lebanese people. So it’s as complex. It’s as complex there as it is here in terms of having those conversations and I think it’s why this webinar today is so important.

WFN: Absolutely so I’d like to end on a more positive note. I’m curious, what did you see that gave you hope?

Jane Sloane: I think the phenomenal resilience of the women. I mean I think the women’s groups that we are supporting that have really expanded their work. These women’s groups saying we don’t need just 20,000 dollars or 30,000 dollars which is really quite often the size of grants that we’ve been able to provide these groups. We need a tenfold increase, we need like $200,000, $300,000 to be able to deal with the level of need and to be able to forge a strong movement for response and a broader change.

The resilience of both the group’s that we’re supporting are just operating under the most extreme conditions and the incredible resilience of the women and their families inside the camps. There was still a lot of laughter and sharing and storytelling even in spite of these conditions and you know it again speaks to people’s humanity. It reminds me of Primo Levy and Mans Search for Meaning where he wrote that, even in the most horrific conditions we still have a choice about how we respond. I just feel so emotional when I think about the women that we spent time with there, because they even speaking about the deadness in the eyes of women you know they were so determined to achieve a better life for themselves and their families.

Some of them were coming into their own, particularly the Syrian women who were realizing their rights, understanding and advocating for their rights. They had a stepped up level of confidence in dealing with their husbands and their families and I think also, of course, the children, the yoga classes I was saying earlier, that it would be so fantastic to create a kind of yoga without borders. To have yoga classes inside every refugee camp because the experience of things like yoga and meditation can’t be underestimated in terms of what that means for children’s, women’s and men’s psychological well-being.

So I just feel so proud to work for Global Fund for Women and to be a board member of Women’s Funding Network and for Global Fund for Women to be a member of Women’s Funding Network because I do think women’s networks and women’s movements are really going to change the world and it really starts with us as individuals and what choices we make in making it possible.

WFN: A big round of applause for Jane, for her very articulate and moving webinar today. I encourage you again go to janeinworld.com. Thank you again to Jane and all of you for tuning in.


Transcript by Jools Thatcher