Names marked with an asterisk * have been changed to protect identities.
Athens, Greece – In recent years Greece has become a focal point for refugees in the European Union, but many of the women who have arrived are portrayed in the media in a stereotypical way.
They are seen in traditional roles – as mothers, wives and often as victims.
“Many stories about female asylum seekers present them either as abject victims or as subjects in need of empowerment, the two accounts may not capture the full texture of these women’s experience,” Roxani Krystalli , a lecturer in international relations at the University of St Andrews, which focuses on the politics and hierarchies of victimization, told Al Jazeera.
“Empowerment can often be patronizing and limited in its understanding of how women already experience and wield power: women are not all about their victimization, and the status of victim or survivor of war is not not totally devoid of free will and power. “
The vast and varied experience of women asylum seekers and refugees cannot be reduced to a stereotype, a story or even an article.
Al Jazeera spoke to three young women about their life in Greece:
“Let’s open this discussion on who has a voice”
Parwana, 17, Afghan writer and activist:
When I was in Afghanistan, writing was one of my hobbies. I really enjoyed writing about what I observe about the environment. When we started our refugee journey and arrived in Greece, I saw the inhuman conditions of Moria and began to write about the realities.
For me, writing was the only way to reduce the pressures I was under in these conditions and it was the only way to share voices. I wrote a short story – The Old Woman and the Olive Tree – and I wrote more poems, I have a collection which I hope will be finished soon.
I realized that writing was not enough and decided to be activist too.
Education is one of our current struggles, we have protested against our lack of education in the camp where I now live on the mainland but we still cannot go to school.
I have organized a school in the camp, there are volunteer teachers, we teach people but it is the only education system we have.
The most important thing for all children is access to education because we had to flee our country, flee and take this dangerous journey for that.
Being an activist is not easy because I am exposed to society. I am exposed as a Muslim girl, I am exposed as a refugee and I am exposed in many ways. It is very difficult to be an activist, an author, a teacher and do all of these things without having support.
Let’s not forget that everyone’s voice counts. This year, let’s open this discussion about who has a voice. Should there always be white politicians representing us when we have our own story to share and our own voice?
“I trained as an auxiliary nurse in Greece”
Fatma *, 20 years old, auxiliary nurse trainee:
I arrived in Greece at the age of 16, with my sister. I would really love to be a doctor, but it’s difficult for me because it’s a foreign country and I’m starting from scratch.
I trained as a nursing assistant in Greece for two and a half years and now live in a single apartment.
When I got here I went to school and learned English and Greek and finished my studies here. They (the Greeks) protected me and helped me, so I want to help them because now it’s my turn. For this reason, I love Greece and also the weather is very pleasant.
I have a lot of Greek friends now because all of my colleagues are now Greek.
It was difficult when I was 18. I didn’t have a house or money so instead of studying I went to work on the islands and earned money to survive.
I worked in Santorini and in one of the hotels in Athens as a cleaning lady to earn money. I hope that in the future the government can help girls like me go to school if they don’t have the money.
‘I studied hairdressing but I think I would like to go to university’
Sahar, 19, Iranian hairdresser:
I have been living in Greece since I was 15, I came here as an unaccompanied minor with my sister.
My parents are from Afghanistan but I was born in Iran. When I first arrived here, I was living in an unaccompanied minor shelter for girls. It was really good.
I finished my high school here and graduated here. I now live in an apartment with my sister. I studied hairdressing but I think I would like to go to university, maybe I would like to be a lawyer but I don’t know what kind of work Greece needs to do.
The economy in Greece is difficult but the people have a very big heart, the Greek people are very close to my people, in their culture and their feelings. The Greeks can understand and feel me.
In Iran, I couldn’t go to school and I didn’t have ID because I was from Afghanistan, and that’s why I came to Greece. When I arrived here, I spoke neither English nor Greek, but I learned English at school. I am now trying to learn more Greek because I would like to make Greek friends of my age.
Since I got my ID I have traveled to Sweden and Germany to see what life is like there, to see if it would be better. But I prefer Greece.
Germany and Sweden may have more money, but they don’t have the sun. We don’t know how long we will live in this world and you must be happy. I love Greece: I am so happy here.