Fatima worries about all of her children, but it’s the health of her two-year-old son that keeps her awake at night.

Loay has bladder cancer - and the treatment he needs is more than Fatima, a single mother of five, could ever afford on her own.

Life as a female Syrian refugee in Jordan is incredibly difficult, now more than ever. Refugees need a government permit in order to work - and only 4 per cent of the 150,000 permits issued so far have gone to women, which makes it hard for female heads of household like Fatima to support their families financially.

Like Fatima, they often have to borrow money to buy food or pay their rent.

Some run a ‘tab’ at local stores for even the most basic supplies; others rely on the generosity of family and friends.

A staggering 92 per cent of refugees have less than 50 dinars [$AUD100] of savings and 88 per cent of refugees hold debt.

Syrian refugee Fatima with her five children in Jordan. Fatima worries about her two-year-old son, Loay, who has bladder cancer. © UNHCR/B.Almeras

The situation has worsened in the pandemic. Although Jordan’s government acted quickly to contain the spread of coronavirus, enforcing some of the strictest lockdown measures in the world, the already fragile economy is now very weak.

Jobs are scarce, which means fewer people have money to lend. One third of refugee households do not have enough food to eat. Fortunately, Fatima and her children are eligible for monthly cash assistance from the UNHCR of 155 dinars [$AUD305], which Fatima uses to pay for Loay’s radiation treatment.

“The cash assistance is literally what’s keeping my son alive,” she says, of the tousled-haired little boy cuddled on her knee.

“Without it, I don’t know how we could go on living.” 

Fatima receives monthly cash assistance from UNHCR which pays for her son's radiation treatment. © UNHCR/B.Almeras

Every donation to the Leading Women Fund goes directly to a female Syrian head of household.

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