In Her Own Words

“Some of us don’t have the luxury to go to our governments and reach out for support, and many of the countries in the Global South don’t have youth representation. Funds such as WPHF, which supports youth civil society organizations and young women peacebuilders working in conflict and crisis-affected countries, are the only way we can exist.”

Ruby Haji Naif is a young women’s rights activist and researcher from Syria, a country she left almost 10 years ago to escape the shattering  war. A Project Assistant with the Solferino Academy of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), where she collaborates with women and girls in addressing global humanitarian challenges, Ruby’s also worked with Women Now for Development, a feminist Syrian civil society organization focused on protecting the rights of women and girls and advancing their role in political, social, economic and cultural life.

“Enhancing the digital literacy and safety of refugees, especially women and youth, is critical to promote their social inclusion, advance their economic empowerment, and ensure their personal well-being.”

With support from the WPHF Funding Window for Women Human Rights Defenders, Ruby was able to attend the 67th session of the Commission on the Status on Women (CSW67), held in New York in March 2023, where she raised awareness of the unique needs and challenges Syrian refugees face and provided recommendations on how to effectively address them. In previous years, the lack of funding and visa restrictions prevented her from attending this important conference, despite receiving invitations from international organizations and key groups.

“Having the chance to be there, at CSW67, was already a powerful statement. It meant a lot to me, as a young woman refugee, to raise my voice, rather than being spoken about. After working for many years, I was finally able to speak about my own experience in front of government representatives. It was so empowering!”

Born in a country devastated by conflict and extreme violence, Ruby knows firsthand the challenges refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) face on the move. After fleeing Syria to Lebanon, she became a refugee in Germany, where she received a scholarship to attend university.

“Our needs, the needs of refugees, are often invisibilized; that’s why networking and joining forces with other activists, including youth advocates, is so important for us to learn more about each other, amplify our work, and make our voices heard.”

Ruby’s activism for refugee rights, however, started way before fleeing Syria. From a very young age, she became an outspoken advocate for women’s rights and youth empowerment in her community, volunteering to organize peace clubs and media literacy activities in refugee camps while conducting research on women’s access to virtual safe spaces. Her experience as a refugee in Germany further encouraged her to continue and expand her work on women’s access to justice, working in close contact with refugees living in Lebanon, Turkey and Europe.

“I’ve always tried to amplify the voices of Syrian refugee women using all the means available — either through research, writing, and participating in youth conferences and events.”

Ruby’s relentless activism and research, however, have come at a high price. Over the last years, she’s received numerous threats and intimidating messages online, forcing her to keep all her accounts private to ensure her safety and the well-being of her family members, many of whom still live in Syria. Despite these challenges, Ruby remains committed to continuing to advocate for more youth and refugee voices in global decision-making spaces, working together with local women’s organizations in the MENA region to promote a feminist, refugee-led, youth-centered agenda in response to current and emerging challenges.

“The risks are real, but having a strong public presence is essential to build momentum and ensure our messages are heard where they need to be heard.”