In response to the recent humanitarian crises across the Arab world, international aid organizations have asserted the importance of addressing gender issues through cultivating women’s agency by stabilizing their socio-economic status. 


During our Turkey Study Abroad, our project explores emerging social entrepreneurship and faith-based NGO models that address women’s financial stability in the refugee context. Ideally, we will focus on models within the informal sector, specifically in relation to workshops, education, and vocational training programs.

These programs are important because: 


  • they provide women with vocational skills to enhance their economic and social agency


  • these skills, combined with entrepreneurial and financial management training, stabilize the socio-economic status of entire families


  • have the potential to become community centers which promote psycho-social healing

Clare Van Holm discusses the student project which focuses on women’s roles within the informal sector, specifically in relation to Muslim NGO’s programs in vocational training and educational workshops. 


In addition to the benefits women and families receive from such social entrepreneurship models, these programs reduce refugee dependency on international aid, ease tensions between refugee communities and host countries, and act as an effective avenue for communities to successfully emerge from the refugee context and contribute to the reconstruction process. 

Clare Van Holm interviews Dr. Yassar Kanawati, an Atlanta-based and Sorbonne trained psychiatrist who has been working with Syrian refugees since 2012. Dr. Kanawati discusses the mental health crisis of trauma survivors and refugees that have fled to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, specifically the experiences of women and children.

Doreen Khoury discusses the challenges Syrian women face post-conflict and transitional settings.  Post-conflict, the greatest challenge Syrian women face is finding a balance between new opportunities in political activism with the pressure of conservatism and traditionalism in gender roles.  Khoury gives some suggestions regarding NGOs and a more successful program in supporting women in post-conflict and transitional settings: include women in the decision making, provide additional support for overcoming communication barriers, and to include  voices typically overlooked (e.g., younger women, socioeconomically disadvantaged).


Doreen Khoury, Hivos International, Middle East Liaison Officer at Hivos International (where she focused on the Syrian civilian grassroots movement, and has worked at the Heinrich Boell Foundation in their Middle East Office)

See GSU students Nusaiba Mubarak and Monique Tibbs' article, "Employment Programs Are Helping Syrian Women Take Back Control Over Their Lives," featured on Muftah.org.  

Organization Profiles


KAMER is a Turkish based NGO that offers programs in women’s empowerment, early education, and social entrepreneurship.  Its early education program offers curriculum in anti-discrimination in order to promote “a permanent change of mentality and are meant to be applied and spread.”  Additionally, their social entrepreneurship programs provide women with an opportunity to: economically empower women, ensure economic stability, and contribute to social participation.


Hurriyet Daily News featured an article relaying that a third of marriages in Turkey’s eastern and southeastern provinces involve brides of minor age, with a significant proportion under the age of fifteen, documented by KAMER, which has worsened significantly, given the post-conflict situation of many Syrians.

Basmeh and Zeitooneh 

Basmeh and Zeitooneh is an organization that motivates and assists Syrian women and youth by providing them with professional development and job opportunities. Women working with Basmeh and Zeitooneh use their skills in embroidery to create and sell pieces that are needed in local areas. The organization also provides a safe community for women to find support for their troubles.

Al-Monitor's article from September 2014, tited "Syrian Women Find Independence in Embroidery", discusses Basmeh wa Zeitooneh's programs to improve the economic lives of Syrian refugee women in Lebanon. Photo by Florence Massena

Further Resources

Barriers to Refugee Entrepreneurship in Belgium: Towards an Explanatory Model

by Bram Wauters and Johan Lambrecht, in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies (2008)


The integration of refugees into their host country is often problematic for refugees and the native population.  Social entrepreneurship assists in integrating refugees into the host country, while also boosting the domestic economy.  However, refugees tend to make less than their native counterparts.  These barriers fall under three specific headings:  market opportunities and access to entrepreneurship, human capital and social networks, and the institutional and social environments.  


Woman Alone: The fight for survival by Syria's refugee women, a report by UNCHR, gives a comprehensive summary of the struggles Syrian refugee women face, including the struggle to find paid work. Work is extremely hard to find for women and some are forced to resort to less desirable means of finance, but the UNCHR and many other local NGOs offer livelihood training and job-seeking assistance to help women become self-sufficient in order to support themselves and their families.



This website is simply a classroom project that uses a conventional study abroad trip, student talent, and faculty expertise to fill an important information gap concerning Turkish politics and the Syrian crisis. Overseen by faculty mentors Dr. Abbas Barzegar and Dr. Rashid Naim of Georgia State University, advanced graduate students and undergraduates from various disciplines were placed in small working groups tasked with explore key subject areas. They did this by conducting research before their trip and interviewing experts. During their three-week trip they continued this process as they visited NGOs, think tanks, and cultural sites. Every day they documented their experiences through the content material that can be found on this site. See this brief article about the project for more information.





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