Bishop Suheil Dawani of the Diocese of Jerusalem has written an essay for the Anglican Communion News Service about the dire situation facing refugees from the civil war in Syria, especially women. He writes:
The latest news coming out of Syria and the refugee camps is so deeply appalling and tragic.
I pray daily for all those in the midst of pain and terror, especially the women and children.
The UN has reported that 2.5 million people have fled their homes. Many are women and children who are fleeing in fear from the ongoing sexual violence against them. The International Rescue Committee reports that those who finally make it into the refugee camps are also victimized. As refugees, women and girls (and boys) remain vulnerable to multiple forms of gender-based violence, and unfortunately few cases are reported due to the feeling of shame or fear of retribution.
This crisis requires urgent action.
Syria is rich with history and culture and has a key role in our own Christian heritage – St Paul was converted on the road to Damascus and today Syria is the home to approximately 2 million Christians – it is the largest Christian community in the Middle East outside Egypt.
As Christians, not only in the Middle East, but worldwide, we are called to respond to this crisis. Jesus is our example of how we are to live and Our Lord has specifically told us to ‘look after orphans and widows in their distress’ (James 1:27b) and we are to treat each other with respect and kindness –‘love your neighbour’ (Mark 12:31).
We, as Christians, must work to be the bridge of reconciliation that can bring peace, with justice, to the Middle East. In this land, that all the Abrahamic faiths hold Holy, we co-exist, living side by side; however, we cannot be a silent witness to the brutal treatment of women and children. The ravages of war will leave, are leaving, deep scars that will take generations to heal.
It is vitally important that we work to change the archaic attitudes that dominate this region of the world. Generations of women know nothing more than continued suffering.
Here in the Diocese of Jerusalem we are working to empower women and youth. In our institutions, our schools, and training centres, we provide an environment where boys and girls are equally valued and are equally encouraged to participate in learning and activities that foster positive and respectful relationships irrespective of gender, ability and ethnicity.
Through the empowering work of the Women’s Ministry in the Diocese of Jerusalem, we are implementing important, and necessary, awareness initiatives, such as White Ribbon Day and participating in the ‘16 Days of Activism for the Elimination o f Violence against Women’. Our Women’s Ministry promotes women leadership by having excellent female role models from our local community, speak at our workshops. We are working diligently to raise awareness, change attitudes, and behaviours that lead to violence.
I have the deepest concern for all people, women and children, who are in Syria, and in the refugee camps in foreign lands. My prayers are ongoing for peace, with justice and reconciliation, that we can live in a world of non-violence, that we can hold our women and children as treasures and treat them with the respect and dignity that all human beings deserve.
May God be with us all.
The Rt Revd Suheil Dawani
Bishop in Jerusalem