Being a Woman in Moria

The other night, two men stood outside the gate for hours taunting me with sexual innuendo. They are maybe 18, bored, and figure it’s ok to do this to a westerner, who is probably promiscuous. This assumption is based on whatever music video or Hollywood film they’ve seen. Eventually, an older man came outside and chastised them, making them leave. But not before they’d encouraged young boys to do the same. Fending off sexual advances from a nine or ten year old is particularly disturbing. It was obvious they didn’t know what they were saying and were just replicating what they had seen, in an effort to gain approval from an older boy. One got close enough to grope me. Sexual assault by a child? Moria blurs all the lines. Girls are women, boys are men.

One pointed to a girl in the family compound and told me her name, which I said sounded beautiful. Later, I was confronted by a very angry man, her brother or cousin, asking me how I was calling her by that word. More men came out. Community elders arrived. Men stood at the gates outside. Her mother yelled and wept.

Apparently it’s a rather sexually charged word, equivalent to calling her an asshole/masturbator. They wouldn’t tell me what it means but they understood it wasn’t my fault and you can imagine how profusely I apologized. So, a boy out for a bit of light teasing turned the night into a proper incident in which we could have potentially damaged the relationship which has taken my agency months to cultivate. It’s perfectly acceptable to lie to a Christian. Excellent.

There is also much common ground, as if women are all part of a separate club where we unite over common struggles. Harassment. Weight gain. Safety and protection. Menstruation. A woman points to one hip, describing it as “macaroni”. The other hip is “potatoes”, referencing the starch-filled meals they receive here.

Women need to ask for sanitary napkins. We’re only supposed to give out four at a time because of shortages. But, every woman working here understands the struggle. Four pads might be enough for only one day. So we try to give more, as supplies permit.

These are some of the hidden challenges in a camp where 80 per cent of the population is men. Hot water, access to toilets, clean pads, a second set of clothes.

The 12-year-old girl who arrives home, out of it, at 3am. Those without a husband, father or brother could be trafficked and some arrive home at all hours. Sexual exploitation cannot be proved and I know that the medical staff do not have conversations about sexually transmitted infections. Some are pregnant.

Women have unique needs and additional vulnerabilities and it’s becoming increasingly clear that not only is each situation unique, there are not enough resources to address them all. We try to house the unaccompanied women in the family compounds, which are becoming increasingly crowded and fraught with ethnic tensions. A man beats his wife, she asks for help. The Greek police offer their solution, “do you want us to arrest him?” They know she’ll say no. And that’s the end of it.

A man sneaks in, family members hide him. So, they want to protect him as we want to protect the women he’s a danger to.

There are no clear lines, no evident solutions.

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