Far From Home: The Syrian Trojan Women Project

Far From Home: The Syrian Trojan Women Project

  by Amina Foda What began as a response to the mental health needs of Syrian refugees in Amman, Jordan has grown into a captivating platform for the world to hear the voices of Syrian refugees. The Syria: The Trojan Women project produced a theatrical adaptation of Euripides’ The Trojan Women on the grounds of the everlasting themes and consequences of war that continue today in the Syrian crisis. The play, performed by a group of Syrian refugee women, embodies the women’s journey with mental anxiety, depression and PTSD. It provides a sobering view into their lived experiences and raises awareness of their challenges. In the words of one of the Syrian refugee actresses, the sentiments of loss and the pain of displacement found in Euripides’ play, The Trojan Women, resonated with their experiences of the modern day Syrian crisis. “War is eternal, just the weapons have changed” — UK based producer, Charlotte Eagar, introduced the Project to an auditorium of Columbia University students in New York City (an evening organized by the Columbia Global Mental Health Program and co-hosted by Columbia College). The New York audience was connected to a group of Syrian refugee women in Amman, Jordan who shared their experiences and hopes to a growing Western audience. Originally scheduled to travel to the United States to perform their adaptation of Euripides’ classic anti-war tragedy, visa denials prevented their physical presence in NYC. As a saving grace, technology bridged the political roadblocks to sharing their story. The women were thoughtful and purposeful in their discussion with the audience. They shared their lived-experiences of building their new community...

Part II – Arab Americans in health: Why are we important?

  Part II in a 3-part series on Arab-American health and national engagement. By Reem Ghoneim, Serena Rasoul, and Amira Mouna The first article in our series explored the absence of Arab-American health data in the national dialogue on minority health due to a lack of a minority status designation.  In this article, we will define the importance of differentiating Arab-Americans from the general population and other minority groups, focusing primarily on conditions and health behaviors that affect our community. There are several contributing factors, or health determinants, that separate the needs of Arab-Americans from the general population. Part I in our series mentioned the major social determinants that affect this population’s ability to access services, including, but not limited to: recent immigration, the effects of cultural and religious behavioral norms, and marginalization of the community due to increased media attention. These factors, along with others (see Table 1), make Arab-Americans an at-risk population for health disparities, requiring targeted attention outside of the general population. Specifically, Arab-American immigrants and subsequent generations are at-risk for health conditions like PTSD or hypertension due to trauma associated with immigration, acculturation, loss of social support, and limited knowledge of the complex US health system.[1]  “They lack the knowledge that is needed to prevent, detect, and treat diseases. This population faces many barriers to accessing the American health care system. Some barriers, such as modesty, gender preference [2], and illness causation misconceptions, arise out of cultural beliefs and practices. Other barriers are related to the complexity of the health care system and the lack of culturally competent services,”[3] writes Odeh Yosef in the Journal...
Part I: Arab Americans in health: why are we missing?

Part I: Arab Americans in health: why are we missing?

  Part 1 in a 3-part series on Arab-American health and national engagement. by Amira Mouna, Serena Rasoul and Reem Ghoneim, Guest Contributors As the United States attempts to implement the first health care overhaul bill in decades – the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – minority health groups nationwide are gearing up to use this opportunity to address their communities’ health disparities. My colleagues and I were no different until we attempted to obtain national health disparity information on Arab-Americans; similar to what exists on the South Asian or East Asian communities within the US. What we found was alarming: although Arab-Americans are an underserved health population, they are not included in the national dialogue on minority health. In fact, the ACA recently implemented an initiative to improve data collection and quality on minority populations in the United States, but it did not include Arabs or Arab-Americans as a racial or ethnic group on the new Data Standards form.[1] Additionally, a recent search using the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health (OMH) website yielded zero results for multiple terms pertaining to Arab-Americans. The same was found across several other government agencies, research institutions, and national minority health initiatives. But with a population estimated over 3.5 million and growing every day, why are Arab-Americans missing?[2] The answer is complex, but one contributing factor may be due to the lack of a designation of Arabs or Arab-Americans as a minority group on the US Census or CDC National Center for Health Statistics forms. Having a distinct minority status is vital for research opportunities, funding allocation, grants...

Women and modern day slavery; a role for Islamic law and tradition

Guardian Development continued its series on modern day slavery to focus on the plight of female migrant domestic workers. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) female migrant domestic workers constitute a quarter to a third of the Middle East’s 22 million migrant workers. Further, “Female migrant workers engaged in domestic services are one of the most vulnerable groups of migrant workers … They are often subject exploitation or physical and sexual violence by their employers or clients.” Coinciding with the High Level Dialogue on Migration and International Development, the article calls on the UN to strengthen laws protecting these women, and for countries to ratify and implement the ILO’s domestic worker convention 189. While international conventions are important in providing recommendations and measures to fulfil important protective goals, they are notoriously difficult to enforce and ensure accountability. In the case of domestic worker convention 189, many countries, among them the UK, have yet to ratify it. There is thus an argument for encouraging national and cultural specific legislation to tackle these human rights abuses. In the case of the Middle East this inevitably falls to Islam in determining a legislative and cultural response. Looking to the Quran and the tradition of the Prophet Mohammed, there are many examples that expressly prohibit slavery and exploitation of labour: The Quran clearly states: “For me is a share of what they deserved and for women is a share of what they (f) deserved.” (4:32) While the Prophet posits: “Give the hired man his wages before his sweat dries.” And: “There are three people whose prayers Allah will not accept. One of...

Reports emerge of Qatar’s “modern-day slaves” ahead of UN Meeting on International Migration and Developemnt

Photograph: Yasser Al-Zayyat/AFP/Getty Images News emerged last week of Nepalese workers subjected to forced labour in preparation for Qatar’s infrastructural transformation ahead of the 2022 World Cup. The revelations were met by  a slew of criticism and appalled responses from FIFA, the Qatari authorities, and the International Labour Organization. Given the continual reports of labour abuses emerging from the Gulf, and the sheer scope of the building required to host the event, these human rights violations do not come as surprise to anyone paying cursory attention to the region. These abuses have been attributed to the system of “kafala” that confers control of workers’ visas and legal status to their employers. This sponsorship system (which should be abolished) accompanies a complex web of recruitment brokers and labour contractors spanning Asia and the Gulf that create situations in which individuals’ mobility is restricted, their salaries and passports confiscated, while they face hunger, sickness, and dangerous working conditions that in numerous instances lead to death. With Qatar’s laws found to be “adequate on paper” during the ILO’s assessment of the country’s labour practices and its reported on-going involvement with the 2020 organizing committee, many questions arise about how these labour and living conditions have gone largely undetected or ignored. Especially damning to those tasked with protecting migrant worker’s rights is that the Guardian’s investigation of Qatar is far form novel; Human Rights Watch issued a damning report of labour abuses in Qatar’s construction sector in June of last year. These oversights bring to the fore the lack of an effective monitoring and accountability structure to track abuses against migrant workers. Such a...