Altered social trajectories and risks of violence among young Syrian women seeking refuge in Turkey: a qualitative study

By Alison Wringe, Ekua Yankah, Tania Parks, Omar Mohamed, Mohamad Saleh, Olivia Speed, Rebecca Hémono, Bridget Relyea, Mahad Ibrahim, Jaspal S. Sandhu, and Jennifer Scott

BMC Women’s Health, Volume 19, Article Number 9 (2019)


This paper examines the risks of gender-based violence against Syrian adolescent girls and young women in Izmir, Turkey and how these risks were shaped by their displacement. By the end of 2017, Turkey hosted an estimated 3.4 million Syrian refugees, of whom approximately one fifth were young women.

The analysis is based on data from focus group discussions conducted in 2016 with Syrian adolescents and young people aged 15–25 years (in separate male and female groups) and focus group discussions with Syrian adults 18 years and older (mixed groups). Discussion was stimulated with the presentation of a vignette about a hypothetical Syrian adolescent girl whose family is experiencing financial difficulties, and participants were invited to reflect on issues facing young Syrian women in Turkey, how these were influenced by their displacement, and how the family might respond to these challenges. Discussions were transcribed and analyzed thematically.

Main findings:

  • Due to increased financial stress and limited educational opportunities, Syrian adolescent girls and young women were more likely to marry early or enter the workforce following their displacement. Both marriage and employment were considered ways to increase financial security. All the young female participants and most of the adult female participants expressed views against early marriage, however most of the young male participants thought it was acceptable for girls to marry early in order to reduce the family’s financial burden or support the family financially.
  • Syrian adolescent girls and young women expressed an increased sense of vulnerability to violence since their displacement, the most pervasive being verbal, sexual and physical street harassment when they were outside their homes. Travelling to a workplace alone placed the girls and women at risk of harassment, and they also faced the risk of abuse from employers in the workplace. Many women resorted to being accompanied by a male relative when they were outside the home or travelling to work.
  • Families adopted several strategies to protect young women from violence. To mitigate the risk of increased violence, many parents reported keeping adolescent girls and young women at home, or ensuring that they were accompanied by male relatives when they were outside the home or travelling to work.
  • Marriage for girls and young women was perceived to be both a risk factor for violence and a protective factor against violence, depending on the perspective. While many participants highlighted the financial benefits of marriage, marriage was also acknowledged to present risks of intimate partner violence, which were amplified when girls married at younger ages. Other participants, however, suggested that marriage could protect adolescent girls and young women from risks of violence associated with working.


The authors conclude that displacement alters the social trajectories of many Syrian adolescents and young women and exposes them to new risks of violence. The authors argue that some strategies adopted by families to protect young women from violence—including keeping them at home, escorting them outside the home, or marrying them at an earlier age—could reinforce gender inequitable norms, restrict their opportunities, or increase risks of violence. They suggest a few interventions to address gender-based violence including: the provision of safe spaces; access to education and safe transport for young women; financial support for families; and community-based interventions to address the risks of sexual harassment in public spaces.


Syria | Turkey