Meet the Syrian women taking the big LEAP

Date: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Nestled in the heart of Jordan’s sprawling Za’atari refugee camp, Rania Mansour sweeps the locks of hair off the floor of her home beauty salon and wipes down the salon chair, which she has carefully preserved since it was provided to her by UN Women. It’s a special business-starting gift that students were awarded after completing the cosmetology training as part of the cash-for-work programme at UN Women’s Oasis Centre.

Rania Mansour, 35, graduated from the UN Women cash-for-work programme to open her own salon. Mansour stands in front of the Oasis she used to attend. Photo: UN Women/Nisreen Elmolla

Mansour, 35, entered the beautician training programme in 2014, seeking the opportunity to earn an income for her family. To her surprise, she gained more than she ever expected, taking advanced sessions in beauty techniques that gave her the skills and confidence to set up her own salon within her own home. Now, Mansour is a fully qualified beautician providing daily services including hairdressing, make-up, and manicures to women in the local community. 

Mansour is among the many women entering and graduating from UN Women’s cash-for-work programme, which is generously funded by the Government of Japan under the ’Women’s Leadership, Empowerment, Access and Protection in Crisis Response’ (LEAP) programme. The initiative addresses the humanitarian needs of vulnerable Syrian women refugees living in camp and non-camp settings, as well as Jordanian women living in host communities, through an approach that seeks to build resilience and empowerment, including employment and entrepreneurship opportunities.

At Azraq camp, Fatmeh Thelal followed a similar path to Mansour in kick-starting her own business. Her previous work as a tailor in Syria equipped her with an advanced skillset. Although she had less to learn than others, Thelal soon realized that the Oasis was more than a place to learn skills and earn money: it was a space where she could feel safe and comfortable, talking and befriending other women. 

“The Oasis helped me shape my personality, start my own business and manage it wisely,” Thelal recalls. “Engaging with women every day made life easier. We laughed together, cried together, and this only made us closer.”

UN Women currently operates four Oases in the Za’atari and Azraq refugee camps, providing 405 daily cash-for-work and livelihood opportunities for vulnerable Syrian refugee women. 


Maryam Khalaf, 39, enrolled in the UN Women cash-for-work programme at Azraq camp, holds up a tailored baby kit. Photo: UN Women/Nisreen Elmolla

Maryam Khalaf, 39, is currently enrolled in the tailoring programme at the Oasis Centre in Azraq. Empowered and inspired by other women’s successes, she has already begun running a tailoring business alongside her work at the Oasis. She is putting aside part of the money she is earning to buy more tools for her business. 

Through the support and capacity-building opportunities offered by UN Women under the LEAP programme, women continue to make the effective transition from the cash-for-work scheme to the successful establishment of their microbusinesses, thus becoming active agents of change and securing a sustainable income for their families.