Women on the move

Painting to advocate for women's rights

This story is a part of the "Stories of Creativity and Resilience" book, which is a poignant, personal, and hopeful tale of refugees in Türkiye; a moving account of their dreams and aspirations and a demonstration of their resilience in spite of the adverse circumstances they live in. 

Updated 24 Aug 2022

Stories of Creativity and Resilience.

Stories of Creativity and Resilience.

From the book "Stories of Creativity and Resilience"

For refugees uprooted by war, using their artistic talents and creative skills is a great way to feel included and protected. Through our livelihood interventions, we wanted to give artists, craftsmen and artisans a chance to use their talents to generate income and to support them to develop professionally to demonstrate the transformative power of creativity and craftsmanship. 

The Danish Refugee Council’s Economic Recovery programming aims to help refugees establish sustainable sources of income to enable them to live a more dignified life during their displacement. We believe that by supporting them to improve their ability to pursue and achieve sustainable livelihoods, they can minimise their vulnerability to any future shocks related to their displacement. 

Our wage and self-employment interventions help build a stronger economic foundation at individual and household levels promoting self-reliance, increasing access to inclusive economic growth and contributing to local integration as a durable solution to displacement. In our interventions, we also include members of the Turkish host community who have been affected by displacement, pandemic and economic recession.

These stories represent only a fraction of the large number of socio-economically vulnerable members of the refugee and host communities who need support to access income generation opportunities and achieve self-reliance and resilience. We hope to reach more of them in collaboration with our donors, partners, Turkish government entities, and private sector allies. 

Supporting women through art

Supporting women through art

One in three women and girls across the world experience sexual or physical violence in their lifetimes. This estimate does not include other forms of gender-based violence (GBV), such as psychological abuse and economic deprivation which are sadly also very common.

While many organizations are working hard to respond to and prevent GBV, a Syrian refugee found another way to raise people’s awareness about GBV: through art.

Aya, who was born in Syria and spent her teenage years in Türkiye as a refugee, started painting at a young age. She loved mixing colors and creating new images to express her ideas. “People often ask me about my favorite painting, but I cannot answer that question,” Aya says. “In every painting there is a part of me.”

"Art is a powerful tool to influence people"

Aya had big dreams but faced resentment from many people who believed that women should only focus on their families rather than artistic pursuits. Aya felt down but she was not willing to let other people’s opinions affect her.

She worked in the protection field at different local non-governmental organizations, where she held awareness sessions on gender equality. She was passionate about these topics and felt inspired to talk about them through her paintings.

“I wanted to send messages through my art because it is a powerful tool to influence people.”

Unfortunately, having a full-time job in an organization left Aya with insufficient time and energy to dedicate to her art project. It was also challenging to find sponsors that can support her in her artwork since raw materials such as oil colors were expensive. Another challenge for Syrian artists in Türkiye is to build a client base interested in their work.

Aya was also subject to criticism in her community for being a feminist and was accused of corrupting women’s minds. The situation got worse when COVID-19 reached Türkiye and the government imposed a series of lockdowns in 2020 and 2021. As a result, many NGOs suspended their in-person activities and Aya was one of the people who lost their jobs and sources of income.

It was a hard time, but Aya did not lose hope and believed that she would find a way to earn her living. She found that chance with the Danish Refugee Council (DRC).

Making a change with art.

Making a change with art.

Paintings sparks conversation

She heard about the Productive Asset Support (PAS) provided by the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) with funding from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) through KFW-German Development Bank.

This support aims to provide skilled refugees with the assets needed to start their own businesses and generate income. Aya signed up for this assistance and attended business management training delivered by DRC’s partner Orange.

“I had already received e-marketing classes in the past, but I realized that I needed information on financial management and product planning to help me increase my profits,” she says.

After successfully submitting her business plan, she received canvas and painting tools such as brushes and colors in March 2021. She started painting diligently for her cause and started selling her paintings. She used the quiet time during the lockdowns to focus on her paintings, which later attracted people’s attention. They were moved by her striking and thought-provoking paintings that talked about domestic violence and child marriage. 

“People started to recognize my art,” Aya says.

“They no longer say that I cannot do anything because I am a woman. My paintings have also sparked conversations about the topics I am passionate about.”

When the COVID-19 restrictions were eased, DRC held a product fair in Altınözü municipality in Hatay in September 2021 and invited the businesses they created, including Aya’s. That gave her the chance to meet potential clients in person and promote her paintings and her cause. “I am doing something I like and selling my paintings, which is quite motivating to me.”

Aya is planning to hold more exhibitions to raise people's awareness about GBV and gender equality and to sell more of her paintings. She also wants to build women’s capacity through passing what she learned from her trainings to teach other women how to open their own business. 

Everyone should be aware that men and women have equal rights and are entitled to equal opportunities. Making that happen is my dream.


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