For over 100 years, International Women's Day has been celebrated around the world on March 8 to commemorate the struggle for women's rights. The theme of this year's event is “Be bold for change.” And in a small city on the outskirts of Dunkirk in northern France, a group of women volunteers are trying to help make the lives of some of the most desperate a little more bearable.
People passing by might not know this place existed, unless they knew where to look. As you exit the highway and enter the carpark of an abandoned warehouse, you will find it through a gate guarded by French police. This is Grande-Synthe, home to a thousand refugees and migrants.
“I always liked volunteering. One day, I saw a camp being built near where I live. In the beginning I was scared, but I said to myself, ok, I must go. And now it’s been two years. When you come to a place like this, you forget your own problems,” said Lamia, a volunteer at the Grande-Synthe camp.
The people here are living in squalid conditions. Wooden huts litter the stark wasteland. Families desperately try to ward off the cold… the smell of petrol fills the air. A children's playground is one of the few tangible signs of life at Grande-Synthe.
But one thing these women have tried to do is to create a space where they can be with one another, with no men allowed.
It’s not the life anyone here wants but on Wednesday, as the world celebrates International Women’s Day, the volunteers hope others will seize the moment, as a call for action and not to forget those who are simply trying to exist.