Experts discuss critical role of refugee women in solving global displacement crisis

A Syrian refugee woman with her children prepares food near her tent as a heavy snowstorm batters the region, in a camp for Syrians who fled their country’s civil war, in Ketermaya, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)

Experts are gathering at the United Nations headquarters in New York today to discuss the importance of engaging some of the world’s most vulnerable people – refugee women and girls – in efforts to mitigate the global displacement crisis.

The moderated panel debate aims to “offer practical recommendations to ensure that solutions to the global displacement crisis are meaningful for women,” according to the International Organization for Migration, which is hosting the event alongside the Women’s Refugee Commission.

One of the speakers and the executive director of Women’s Refugee Route, Mina Jaf, said that while women and girls form the majority of displaced populations, their needs and capacities are often overlooked by humanitarian actors providing assistance.

“The U.N. [migration]agency and European countries are overwhelmed with how to find a solution for how to deal with this refugee crisis,” Jaf told Humanosphere.

“I hope the event … [will]provide a discussion on how to include women into signings, protection systems and be part of our policymaking. For me, it is the most important part of all, because without women in these decision-making processes, we will not get very far.”

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Women’s Refugee Route trains female translators to provide information and help women and girls on dangerous journeys around the world. Jaf, who founded the organization after her own experiences as a refugee, said women refugees often lack basic information regarding their rights, legal status and access to health care.

Jaf said her organization also provides women with information and guidance on issues of sexual assault and rape – problems that can plague refugee women and girls at every stage of their journey.

In recent years, a series of conflicts around the world has left governments grappling with highest number of displaced people seen since World War II. Between 2000 and 2015, the number of international migrants increased by 41 percent to reach 244 million. Almost half of them are women, according to U.N. figures.

The crisis is straining governments around the world with massive populations of refugees they are either unwilling or unable to take in. Jordan, with a population of just over 6 million people, is now home to more than 600,000 Syrian refugees. Turkey, with a population of 76 million, has taken in 2.5 million.

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Humanitarian experts say refugee women will play a crucial role in caring for, sustaining and rebuilding their communities, but that their needs and voices are often missing from policies designed to assist them. Refugee women must be included in decision-making processes, they say, if women are to access the forms of assistance and protection they need.

In a previous effort to engage women’s voices, last year’s World Humanitarian Summit and the Grand Bargain confirmed that humanitarian responses are only effective and efficient when they include the voices of the people most affected – including women and girls.

A few months later, U.N. countries also pledged to recognize the “significant contribution and leadership of women in refugee and migrant communities” and to “ensure their full, equal and meaningful participation in the development of local solutions and opportunities” in the New York Declaration on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants.

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Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email lisa.nikolau@humanosphere.org or see her latest work at www.lisanikolau.com