Published on Jobs and Development

Five strategies to address employment hurdles faced by young Syrian women refugees

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Young Syrian women refugees face enormous challenges in finding meaningful work in host countries, with many relying on humanitarian aid to meet their basic needs. These constraints include legal restrictions, transportation limitations, poor working conditions, low wages, and workplace exploitation.

Meanwhile, host countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, which have some of the highest concentration of Syrian refugees, face challenges in meeting basic refugee needs while contending with their own struggling economies and people.

In our recently published Jobs Note, S4YE, along with our partner RAND, outline strategies to address employment obstacles for young Syrian women refugees in a post-COVID environment.  

1. Support Syrian refugees and disadvantaged host country populations simultaneously

Both refugees and disadvantaged host country populations are vulnerable and share many of the same struggles to meet basic needs.  Targeting both vulnerable groups eases tensions between the communities and acknowledges the public good host countries provide when affording safe refuge to displaced populations. Programs like the World Bank’s National Volunteer Service Program (NSVP) in Lebanon, for example, explicitly promote better relations between young Syrian refugees and Lebanese through shared volunteer work experiences.

Another example is the Economic opportunities for Jordanians and Syrian Refugees (PforR) in Jordan, which aims to promote economic growth, competitiveness, and an inclusive labor market. These measures also benefit Syrian refugees by waiving work permit fees (which supports home-based work, a woman-dominated segment), introducing municipal regulatory reforms to address work barriers, and issuing work permits in select sectors to increase economic opportunities.

2. Build flexibility in work permits to help refugee women access jobs in several sectors, including traditionally male-dominated sectors

Allowing workers to work for multiple employers and follow seasonal agricultural demand can help expand available opportunities for refugees. Most work permits have focused largely on traditionally male-dominated sectors such as construction and agriculture, thus limiting benefits for refugee women. Of the approximately 57,000 work permits approved for refugees in the agriculture and construction sectors from January 2016 to October 2018, only four percent were distributed to Syrian refugee women. 

One area of opportunity in Jordan and Lebanon is the potential for growth in climate-smart and water-saving technologies. A large number of Syrian refugees worked in agriculture as unpaid workers on family farms or conducted seasonal work prior to fleeing Syria. According to one study, climate‑smart investment in agriculture could boost refugee employment in this sector, especially for women, since certain types of agriculture jobs such as picking fruit and harvesting crops traditionally depend on female workers.

3. Include business training and access to finance for potential women entrepreneurs 

Many young women and girls have been left out of job training access, which severely limits their economic aspirations and potential.  The Livelihood Program Targeting Entrepreneurship Skills and Business Creation (LP-ESBC) initiative in Turkey supports Syrian women refugee entrepreneurs through technical training, development of socio-emotional skills, and financial access, recognizing that technical skills alone are not enough to help young women entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

Another example is the EFE-Jordan program, which connects Syrian women refugees and Jordanian youth to mentors and business start-up financing. Since 2017, the EFE-Jordan program has linked 81 percent of entrepreneurship program graduates to start-up support in businesses such as home salons, bakeries, restaurants, and sewing shops.

4. Support income-earning opportunities for young mothers

Making small, home-made handicrafts for a decent wage can help mothers balance home care responsibilities while earning an income . An IKEA initiative employs a small number of Syrian refugee women in Jordan to make handicrafts. Although helping only a small number of women, the project demonstrates the possibility of women having the flexibility to work from home.

5. Provide safe transportation and gender-based violence training

Syrian refugee women may be particularly susceptible to violence and harassment because of the lack of formal referral systems and fear of retaliation due to their vulnerable residency status. 

Eid-bi-Eid (Hand-in-Hand) — a Zonta International initiative in partnership with UN Women and the Jordanian Ministry of Social Development — provides protection services, gender-based violence training, vocational training, job placement, and childcare services to Syrian refugee women.

In terms of safe transportation, RBK (ReBootKamp), a career accelerator for youth in Jordan, has added ride-share apps for young Syrian refugee women that allow them to travel to the RBK campus or workplace together. ILO has also encouraged more Syrian refugee women in the Jordan Zaatari camp to take jobs at nearby factories, and has arranged for transportation from inside the camp to the camp gates where employees can then take special buses provided by the factories.

This blog is based on the Addressing Employment Obstacles for Young Syrian Refugee Women Solutions Note, published in June 2020. This is the second post in a blog series outlining practical strategies to promote a gender-inclusive labor force, based on research and evidence from the World Bank Jobs Group’s Solutions Notes. The Solutions Notes synthesize findings from the Jobs Umbrella Multidonor Trust Fund (MDTF)-funded activities and other sources based on research, evaluations, pilots, and operations. Each Note succinctly analyzes efforts and challenges, and provides an evaluation of what has worked, and what does not.

The first post in the series: Promoting a Gender-Inclusive Labor Force Blog 1: Five ways to make skills training work for women


Namita Datta

Program Manager, Solutions for Youth Employment (S4YE)

Louay Constant

Senior Policy Researcher, Rand Corporation

Kavell Joseph

Consultant, Latin America and the Caribbean Gender Innovation Lab, Poverty and Equity Global Practice

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