The Athena Centre for Women on the island of Chios was the first exclusively female space outside the refugee camps in Greece. What started out as a simple home for them to relax and feel safe away from the stress of camp life, was organically shaped by the women themselves into a network nerve centre on the island to provide legal, psychological and medical support – within a safe sanctuary. We have hosted experts leading seminars on topics such as sexual health, contraception, feminine hygiene and safety.
There was a room known fondly by the women of the camps as the ‘Raha’ (‘relaxation’ in Arabic), where women could socialise, knit, play music and form connections over simple refreshments. We’ve also provided services such as language and self-defense classes, art therapy, yoga, and seminars on personal health and well-being.
A kitchen allowed the women to cook and enjoy meals together on special occasions, such as breaking the fast during Ramadam.
We also oﬀered access to a private shower and a small oﬃce for personal conversations and legal or psychological support.
For four years, the Athena Centre relied on the power of civil society and the solidarity of over 80+ female volunteers to establish itself as a safe haven for girls over 11 years old, living in the chaotic and often unsafe camps on the island of Chios where we’ve dedicated ourselves to working with over 19 000+ women in providing a sense of normalcy, safety, and opportunity for what is, perhaps the most vulnerable point in their lives.
We had to make the most difficult decision to close its doors in December 2019 due to limited resources, in order to focus on the hundreds of women who are facing destitution and are therefore at heightened risk of gender based violence in Athens – from trafficking to little to no opportunities for dignified work. Many women – including our participants at the Athena Centre, experience exploitation and are forced to engage in non-consensual sex, in exchange for basic survival needs such as housing and money for food.
The walls of this little Centre have heard way too many stories of abuse, violence, suffering and sheltered the vulnerable during fascist attacks. We believe that change only happens when we focus on a holistic programme, which both protects and empowers women, and break the vicious cycle of further harm and exclusion/deprivation.
We will take away the memories of how we’ve cried, cooked, baked, learned, danced – and most importantly, laughed together.
For more information of what we do in Athens, please check the Pomegranate Project.