The war in Syria has made all of us aware of a very large group of people who are living desperate lives as they flee their homes, everything they know and make arduous journeys to unfamiliar and overcrowded refugee camps. These refugees carrying with them the faint hope that some country will receive them and let them begin to live life again. Our country, Canada, has decided to receive thousands of refugees with the goal of helping them find a good life in Canada. We have all heard heart warming stories of communities who have done exceptional jobs of warmly welcoming these refugees. Perhaps your community has been part of such efforts.
For all of us, to live good lives, we need safety for ourselves and our children. We also need to have agency over our own lives – freedom to make choices. The headlines about the refugees fleeing Syria has caused all of us to pause and ponder the horror of being forced to flee your home, leaving all that you know behind. I wonder, however, if we ever stop to think about the hundreds of women every day in Canada who flee their homes because of violence and abuse. They too are refugees of a sort. They become homeless and dislocated within their own country. On any given day in Canada, more than 3,300 women (along with their 3,000 children) are forced to sleep in shelters to escape violence in their homes. Every night, over 200 women are turned away because the shelters are full.(1)
Women’s shelters are a type of refugee camp. Women flee violence, seeking refuge and safety. Women often leave their homes with nothing, sometimes losing all of their worldly possessions. Women fleeing violence are fleeing fear, terror and oppression. They are typically exhausted and completely depleted from the efforts of trying to keep themselves and their children safe. They have been humiliated and oppressed as their partner tried to control every aspect of their lives and to destroy their sense of self. As one woman said to me, “I was made to feel sub-human”.
As we do everything we can to support refugees from Syria, it is good for us to remember the women who are refugees in their own country too.
(1) Taken from the Canadian Foundation website