Refugee women – we see but don’t hear

Copyright: IRIN/Kate Holt.

In 2011, the UNHCR hosted a dialogue with over 1,000 refugee, asylum seeking and internally displaced women and girls in India, Colombia, Jordan, Uganda, Zambia, Thailand and Finland.  In June 2011, women were invited to Geneva to present what they observe as core challenges when it comes to the protection of their rights and fulfillment of their needs. The dialogue centered on ten-core protection areas.  Here, I quote some of the concerns expressed and raised in the project’s report.  I have chosen to highlight these passages in the report to reveal the bravery of displaced women and the complexity of the challenges they face.  Some passages also highlight how our collective failings have facilitated the continued exclusion of women’s experiences and knowledge from decision-making circles.

1. Individual documentation

“Concerns were also expressed that, when no documents are produced to support an application, the credibility of asylum-seekers is often doubted. Officials and judges who determine refugee status need to be made aware that documents can be missing because of war, sudden flight and travel, and that credibility can be established by other means.”

2. Women in leadership

“Women reported that they are often marginalized by men in their homes and routinely excluded from meaningful positions in their families and communities. Many are denied education, which can exclude them from learning the languages used in meetings. In addition to cultural obstacles, negative stereotyping of refugee women by people in the community may also obstruct their empowerment and hinder their capacity to take up leadership responsibilities.”

3. Education

“Host countries often do not offer tailored language programmes adapted to different age groups, including elderly women and men. They do not make available to refugees courses that will enable them to adapt or upgrade their skills, so that they can more easily search for employment, participate in host country education programmes, or adapt to a new lifestyle.  When vocational and adult courses are available, they often target men and boys or are given at times when women cannot attend because of family duties. Little attention is given to the needs of pre-literate women.”

4. Economic self-reliance

“Lack of access to employment and to legal means of income generation were two of the biggest hardships reported by refugee women and girls. Many women, especially single mothers, face a desperate situation because they are not authorized to work in their host countries and lack  access to adequate subsistence allowances or rations. They cannot pay rent or purchase food and other essential items, and this affects their health as well as their ability to send their children to school.” Continue reading “Refugee women – we see but don’t hear”