ActionAid Greece – Women Friendly Spaces

Adapting to changing needs in Greece

The increased restrictions on refugee movement in Europe in 2016 mean people are spending longer periods in overcrowded transit locations. This has led to a progressively deteriorating humanitarian situation with regard to women’s vulnerability to sexual assault and exploitation in overcrowded camps.1

In response, ActionAid Hellas has established women centred protection programmes on Lesvos island and in Schisto and Skaramangas camps in the Attica region around Athens. The programmes in each site have been adapted to reflect the needs of displaced women that are staying for a prolonged period of time in the camps. The issues identified include an increased risk of GBV linked to the lack of privacy in overcrowded collective shelters, disintegration of family and community networks, and insufficient income to meet basic needs. Many women have also experienced sexual or gender-based violence during transit or at their point of origin. There are also significant cultural, language, and administrative barriers in accessing services from health services to legal services.

Women Friendly Spaces

The programme provides psychosocial support to women facing trauma as a result of the conflict they fled, their journey and their displacement. In specially designed women friendly spaces, services offered are:

  • A protected environment where women can share their problems and gain respite.
  • Psychological first aid, including individual case management and referral through social workers, psychologists, and interpreters as well as group counselling.
  • Distribution of dignity kits.
  • Referral for medical, legal, and shelter assistance.
  • Social mobilisation and resilience building activities including interpretation, information, initiatives to build resilience and help people cope through skill building activities such as language lessons, financial literacy, crafts etc.

1  Guardian Article ‘Prisoners of Europe’: the everyday humiliation of refugees stuck in Greece. Published: 7/9/16. Available at:


Since heavy restrictions on refugees’ onward travel through the EU were put in place this year many refugees have become stranded in Greece. In this time, the project has impacted the most vulnerable women’s lives by providing protection, psychosocial support and a chance to access services and information that due to their circumstances they did not have access to.

  • Over 1,500 individual women visited ActionAid’s Women Friendly Spaces in both locations in that period.
  • 3,700 psychosocial sessions including Psychological First Aid sessions were held in that period.
  • Over 900 referrals and referral follow-ups were conducted to services outside the camps.
  • 797 women participated in empowerment activities

The Arts and Crafts activities on Lesvos culminated in an exhibition by the women of their work in the square of Mytilini town, while in Attica a play was written and performed by the Afghan women of Schisto camp describing their journey and experiences. Titled “The Journey Continues”, it was performed for the public as part of the “European Cultural Days” festival organized by the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports. Some of the programme participants reflected on their situation in the camps.

Through implementation of this programme, Action Aid has identified the following lessons learnt:

  • The importance of a flexible approach that allows a programme to adapt to changes in context, particularly tailoring the programme to emerging needs such as higher demand for psychosocial support.
  • The need for well established relationships with host authorities and civil society.
  • The importance of co-operation and co-ordination to address challenges such as overcrowding and shortage of space and inconsistencies in service delivery.

“The atmosphere changed after you came and we started with the activities and the groups. You are looking after us. My husband at some point decided that we will go back to Afghanistan. This is when I tried to take my own life. Now at the ActionAid sessions we talk about our burdens and we unload our souls…No one cares about Afghans and what is going on in my country. I have seen decapitations with my own eyes. There is a secret war for 30 years in Afghanistan and no-one cares.”

– Afghan woman, Schisto camp, Attica Region, Greece.

“Life in the camp is very hard. One day is like a lifetime. We want to feel our humanity and to have our respect.”

– Syrian woman, Kara Tepe Camp, Lesvos

“We have a team here. We talk amongst us, what our situation is here. It helps us a lot.”

– Afghan woman, Schisto camp, Attica Region, Greece.