From where I stand: “It is not a shame for women to go out and work”


Older Syrian refugee women are struggling to find jobs amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As the sole provider of the family, Nawal Saed Mohammed, 60, is now able to work in a field she is passionate about, sharing her 45 years of experience in tailoring with other women at the UN Women Oasis Centre in the Za’atari refugee camp, and helping them to gain new skills, opportunities and economic independence with the support of the European Union through the Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian crisis, the Madad Fund. 

Nawal Saed Mohammed, 60, sewing baby outfits as master cutter at the UN Women Oasis centre in the Za’atari refugee camp. Photo: UN Women/Ye Ji Lee
Nawal Saed Mohammed, 60, sewing baby outfits as master cutter at the UN Women Oasis centre in the Za’atari refugee camp. Photo: UN Women/Ye Ji Lee

“I first arrived in the Za’atari refugee camp in 2012 with four of my children, one boy and three girls. My husband passed away in 2010. Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, I lost one son and another one was severely injured. When I began feeling unsafe, I decided to cross the border. One of my sons later reunited with us in the camp, but three of my children are still in Syria. While we came to Jordan hoping for a better future, life was not easy at the beginning. None of us was able to find a job and I needed financial support for my family.

Like most women in our community, I used to be a housewife. My husband did not want me to work. I secretly set up a small business, doing some tailoring work while he was away. I wanted to be able to help with the expenses and I managed to gain good experience over the years. However, this seemed not to be enough to secure an income once in Jordan.

One day, I heard from other women in the camp that gaining a training certificate would increase my chances of securing a job opportunity. I enrolled in one of the programmes, and I even received a small grant and a tailoring machine. I started to collaborate with other women to produce traditional clothes like the ‘abaya’ and ‘kaftan’. However, this was not sufficient to make ends meet. Then COVID-19 hit. My sons and I were again jobless.

Incentive-based volunteer opportunities in the camp are limited and I had been turned down before. People wondered if I would be able to work full-time, as it might be a big pressure considering my age. I do not consider my age as a barrier. On the contrary, I have 45 years of experience in tailoring and I was convinced that my experience and skills make me an excellent candidate for the positions I saw advertised.

When I applied at the Oasis Centre, I had no expectations, but I had to try. Thankfully, I was accepted and enrolled as a master cutter, which gave me a chance to share my knowledge with other women in the centre. Most tailors use a traditional style of tracing. I taught others to make calculations to draw new patterns in making any piece of the baby kit we are producing. Acquiring new skills can translate into another opportunity. I am very passionate about the work that I’m doing and being able to share my expertise so other women can benefit from it as well.

After all these years, I believe women are the foundation of each family and they are fully capable of supporting themselves and their families, working shoulder-to-shoulder. It shouldn’t be a shame for women to go out and work, and I am proud I can work until this age.”


Available in Arabic here.