Around the world, there are 103 million displaced persons - 32.5 million of whom are refugees.
War and conflict, violence and extreme weather are major contributors to these high numbers. Women account for half of the number of refugees and those displaced around the world. For them, the journey to asylum presents life-altering risks, as they are exposed to discrimination and gender-based violence.
In conflict-affected countries where we have established offices and local teams, many women in our programmes are refugees or forcibly displaced. In Iraq, for example, we serve Syrian women who have fled violence by ISIS, and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, some of the women in our programme are refugees from South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda or Burundi.
But when conflict emerges where we don't have local teams, we work where we can to identify partner organisations on the ground, with whom we meet the unique and urgent needs of women who are often overlooked in times of crisis. We do this through our Conflict Response Fund, and often the women we reach are refugees or displaced.
Here are four spotlights on some of the crises we're responding to by serving refugee and displaced women - and ways you can help too.
1. Conflict in Sudan
The eruption of deadly conflict between the Sudanese government and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces this April exacerbated displacement.
Hundreds of thousands are estimated to have left Sudan to neighbouring countries - a number that will no doubt grow as the violence continues. They're going to Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, the Central African Republic and to South Sudan, where we've worked since 2006. For many, this is not the first time they've been forced to leave everything behind, and many are returning to their home countries under dangerous conditions.
We launched a Conflict Response Fund appeal and have identified two local women's rights organisations that we are now supporting: Zenab and the Sudanese Organization for Research and Development (SORD).
Together with Zenab, we are distributing emergency food kits and non-food essentials like soap and sanitary pads - prioritising women-led households and women with disabilities or poor health.
Through SORD, our support will provide hygiene kits, torches and rape whistles to women and girls, alongside trauma-informed counseling and support documenting cases of gender-based violence in the community.
2. The war in Ukraine
The lives of millions of women in Ukraine have been shattered by the Russian invasion, and millions are now displaced.
Overall, around 13.4 million people have been displaced, including eight million refugees. This is the conflict that took the number of refugees globally to over 100 million last year.
Without a team on the ground, we partnered with organisations in both Ukraine and Poland - where the vast majority of refugees were going - to meet women's unique needs.
In Ukraine, we have been addressing post-traumatic stress disorder and other war-related trauma - as reports of conflict-related sexual violence have risen. We're working with The Andreev Foundation to support teams of psychologists reaching women survivors in areas of Ukraine that were formerly occupied by Russian forces.
We are also supporting displaced women to find work in their new communities and regain their financial independence. The Andreev Foundation provides skill training and with another local partner, Dom4824, we have opened a co-working beauty salon where women can work, providing beauty and cosmetic treatments. The space also provides occupational therapy and practical training for other internally displaced women to learn the skills they need to start their own businesses.
Alongside Bereginia and HumanDoc Foundation in Poland, we serve women and children evacuated from Mariupol. Refugees from Ukraine themselves, the mother and daughter team Myrna and Kateryna lead Bereginia, sharing the pain of the women we serve.
Together with our partners, we offer dedicated spaces for women refugees to gather, and psychosocial support to begin the healing process. As the women we serve in Poland adapt to life in a new country, we also provide legal counsel, language support and skills training so they can become financially independent and obtain accommodation.
3. The Rohingya Genocide
MORE THAN 1 MILLION ROHINGYA MUSLIMS LIVING IN MYANMAR WERE CHASED FROM THEIR HOMES IN 2017. Today, they are still in danger.
Rohingya people have been denied citizenship in Myanmar since 1982, and in 2022 the US formally determined that the atrocities committed against them were acts of genocide.
Forced to flee, close to one million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar now live in neighbouring Bangladesh - many in 33 highly congested camps in the infamous Cox’s Bazar District. This is one of the largest protracted refugee situations in the world.
For Rohingya people still living in Myanmar, they are left unprotected and without rights. In a country already affected by gender-based violence, women and girls are vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation. We work with the Center for Social Integrity (CSI) in the Northern Rakhine State in Myanmar, in government-controlled detention camps or remote villages under severe restrictions. Through our partnership, women and girls receive a basic education and training that prepares them to become more involved in their communities.
4. 12 Years of Violence in Syria
Since 2011, political violence has caused devastating bloodshed and displacement in Syria, and one of the greatest refugee waves in the world.
Peaceful protests in Syria in 2011 turned into years of war and violence - still ongoing today.
There are 6.9 million people displaced within Syria and more than 6.8 million have been forced to flee the country since this violence began. Most refugees from Syria are in neighbouring countries, with over 260,000 settled in Iraq - mostly in the Kurdistan Region where we work.
Women for Women International serves Syrian women both within the country - through our Conflict Response Fund, in partnership with Women Now For Development - and in Iraq.
Since 2020, we have partnered with Women Now for Development to provide women with the opportunity to attain better livelihoods. The organisation trains, educates and supports Syrian women by providing courses at centres on the outskirts of Idlib and the countryside around Aleppo.
When the earthquake struck the Türkiye-Syria border, we also raised funds to meet the needs of the Women Now For Development staff, so they could place a strong focus on helping other women affected.
In Iraq, where we have worked since 2003, we serve Syrian women alongside Iraqi, Kurdish and Yezidi women. They join our Stronger Women, Stronger Nations programme to gain the knowledge, skills and resources to rebuild their lives after the devastation of war.
Watch this video to meet two strong and inspiring refugee women from Syria: Zubeida, our Stronger Women, Stronger Nations programme graduate and Nermin, who works for Women for Women International in Iraq.
How you can help
We’re asking you to send a #MessageToMySister – just a few simple words to express their solidarity and support for women living in some of the world’s most dangerous places.
War, conflict and violence are major contributors to why there are over 100 million refugees today. Women account for half of the number of refugees and those displaced around the world.
If you can, make a one-off or regular gift to support women survivors of war and conflict this World Refugee Week.
In recent years, refugee literature has provided a way of educating the public about the truth behind the refugee experience. Women for Women International believes that knowledge is power, so check out our World Refugee Day Reading List to grow your awareness and understanding of the refugee experience for your own personal reading and to share with others.