“Women hold up half the sky” – A Chinese proverb

The Athena Centre for Women opened its doors in July 2016 as the first female-only space on the Greek island of Chios outside the refugee camps. The volunteer-lead Centre offers a calm, safe space for women to shower privately, relax, build new relationships, use WiFi, enjoy tea and snacks, and engage in empowering educational classes six days a week. It is a place for women to distance themselves from the trauma and instability of their daily lives and regain a sense of self and dignity.

How it all began

Having been on the island of Chios since the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal on 20th March 2016, where the refugee population has been stuck in a state of limbo ever since, our founder Gabrielle Tay met many refugee women in the camps. Through the establishment of trust and formation of strong relationships, she gathered in depth feedback about issues they are facing.

She has witnessed how women of all ages (especially single female travellers) brave discrimination:

  • The harsh conditions of the camps expose them to sexual harassment and attacks.
  • There were no facilities specifically catering to the needs of the women on the island.
  • They have no safe place to gather, to take a break from camp life and to just be themselves.

Across all cultures, women are the glue holding family units together, and our founder believes that this particular group of refugees deserves specialist support while they live in the camps and navigate their way through a complex and frustrating situation.

On 20th July 2016, Action from Switzerland opened the Athena Centre for Women, just a stone’s throw away from Souda camp.

The Athena Centre for Women

Latest figures show that 30% of the refugee population on Chios are women, aged 15 years or over. At the time, there were only volunteer-led social projects on Chios aimed at mothers with babies, or providing schooling for children. There were no facilities specifically catering to the needs of the women on the island. They had no safe place to gather, to take a break from camp life and to just be themselves.

The Athena Centre for Women became the first women-only space outside of the camps in Chios.

Our vision: to offer a safe space where women can enrich their lives and recover their sense of identity that has been lost during the crisis.

Our mission: to improve the mental and physical well-being of the female refugees and to offer meaningful educational programs and activities, such as language courses, crafts, yoga and meditation.

Health and well being

Besides empowerment and educational activities, the centre functions as a hub from where specific needs of the women refugee population of Chios – legal/psychological/health – are addressed.

Information sessions on feminine hygiene, female health issues and contraception are held, to empower the women and promote their participation in decisions that affect their lives.

The centre is stocked with feminine hygiene products and contraception, and has a private shower where the women can shower in peace without worrying about being followed. They feel so unsafe in the camp that they tend to go to the bathroom in pairs, let alone take a shower in peace.

By providing a safe space, we will also be able to offer emotional care and support, which in turn will help us offer specific and tailored provision for those who have been a victim of sexual gender-based violence.

We cannot succeed alone

These are simple things that many take for granted, but which will make a wealth of difference to the women in the camps. For the women, domestic violence has become normalized. Due to the trauma they’ve experienced fleeing war, violence tends to be an outlet. Report of sexual harassment and sexual violence are also on the rise which is a cause for concern.

We strongly believe that the centre is a great resource for the female refugee population. We provide a safe space that offers respite from the harsh conditions of camp life, as well as some entertainment and enjoyment in an otherwise difficult situation.

Simply put: we could not have created this women’s Centre without your help. Action from Switzerland is a volunteer-run non-profit, and we need donations to keep us operating. Please consider supporting us; more information on where your donations are spent can be found our donations page.

More information