Jeanny has been on Chios for almost two months. Her languages skills of German, Swahili, Arabic and English have been an amazing icebreaker with the women. We wish she can stay forever! We wanted to celebrate International Women’s Day on Chios and I asked the team to put together a simple presentation, followed by pizza and dancing. We didn’t expect the outcome!
Read Jeanny’s blog post on how it went:
March 8th marks the date when International Women’s Day is celebrated. For more than a hundred years, women have come together on that day to stand in unity and speak up for women’s rights. This important day naturally, needs to be commemorated at our Athena Centre for Women on Chios, Greece. The plan was to hold a small-scale celebration with music and pizza. But beforehand we wanted to make sure that the women attending the center that day knew what IWD stands for and why it is celebrated. For that reason I prepared a short presentation. The women took my plan and made it their own.
A crowd of 20 women gathered in our Activity Hall. Many of them had previously heard about IWD because it was celebrated to some extent in their country of origin or is even an official holiday there. The history and reason behind the day, however, was new to most of them, including myself. Initially celebrated to honor strike of female factory workers in New York in 1908, IWD today serves to raise political and social awareness of the struggles of women all around the world. I believe that every female can in one way or another relate to gender-based discrimination, be that unequal rights and salaries, lack or prevention of access to education, or physical or sexual exploitation. I tried to stress that women, no matter how they are and have been viewed, treated, or discriminated against, are strong, smart, and valuable, and that there is a need to come together and raise our voices as one big voice. For together we are a stronger and louder force, demanding positive change, and we will not be ignored. That is what IWD is all about.
At the end of the presentation some of the women took the opportunity to speak up. One lady, clearly tired and frustrated, spoke out against the horrible living conditions in the refugee camp near the town of Chios called Vial. She insisted on change regarding the way she and her fellow refugees are kept in prison-like and underequipped facilities.
A huge discussion erupted, and other women joined her in shouting “huriya, huriya”, which is Arabic for “freedom.” Personally, I stood in amazement of what was happening before my eyes. The women, who all face similar challenges and struggles as refugees on Chios were rising up together and demanding freedom, just as women all over the globe were coming together on that day to stand in solidarity.
Another lady requested to speak. She said she does not understand why, after surviving persecution, losing her spouse to war, fleeing it, then getting herself and her children smuggled across a country and parts of the Aegean Sea, that she now finds herself stuck in a Greek refugee camp living under inhuman conditions with no security for her children. The atmosphere in the room got increasingly tense and emotional and it was time for a reality check. The AfS team spoke up, explaining that change does not happen overnight. Demonstrating for ones rights might not alter a situation today, or tomorrow, or the day after. But it is the united voices that persist and continue to demand for change that will deliver results, sometimes sooner and sometimes later. In the meantime, the AfS’ Athena Centre for Women is here for those who seek refuge and serves as a place of peace in the chaos of life as a female refugee on Chios. Also, it offers the women an opportunity to express themselves though our #MakeItSafe campaign.
We let the day fade out on a lighter note, enjoying pizza and Arab music to which especially the younger women excitedly danced. I was happy to see them dance so freely. The thought that at least within the limited space that we are able to offer them in the Athena Centre for Women, they can feel free and safe is a comfort. My hope is that they understand the significance of IWD and how crucial it is – especially for them as women sharing a comparable fate and similar struggles – to stand united also outside of this safe space and look out for each other in order to conquer the harsh circumstances into which life has catapulted them.