The amount of forcibly displaced people has reached a staggering number—nearly 80 million according to UNHCR—and the number only continues to increase.
Our world has experienced political, social, and cultural upheaval unmatched by any other period in our history. Continuous conflict compounded with the economic impacts of coronavirus in South Sudan and Syria has forced hundreds of millions out of their homes and into a world without healthcare or social support systems.
After more than a year of struggle through COVID-19, refugees and displaced people are facing more challenges than ever—especially women and girls. Ethnic tensions, political strife, famine, climate change, and terrorism continue to uproot lives.
As inequality gaps widen and displacement increases, it’s up to us to invest in providing the opportunities and services to support women refugees during this time and as they rebuild.
1) Refugees bear the brunt of COVID-19's impact on health and economic insecurity.
In the crowded camps where refugees and displaced people live, coronavirus poses a disproportionately large risk. Overcrowding makes social distancing a challenge that can fuel the spread of disease. Camps like the ones in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, the world’s largest refugee settlement, can have six times the population density of New York City. On top of this, inadequate sanitation and disruptions in humanitarian aid compound fragile health conditions for refugees. In May, the United Kingdom cut their aid budget for Rohingya refugees by 40%.
Refugees who found work or had small businesses find themselves without income due to continued lockdowns and these cuts. With savings drying up, many find themselves pushed into poverty.
2) Women and children make up most of the people forcibly displaced by renewed conflict in Syria.
There are 6.2 million people displaced within Syria. Nearly 70% of this population is women and children, now forced into surrounding areas, some in camps where resources are scarce and weather conditions harsh.
In places like Syria, where women had been making advances in gender equality, disease and displacement threaten that progress.
3) 50 percent of refugees, internally displaced, or stateless populations are women and girls.
UNHCR reports that of the 79.5 million people who have been forced into displacement, over half are women and girls. Women are often the first responders when crisis hits yet their voices are often left out of policies that are designed to protect them. In addition to poverty and other issues that all refugees may face, women refugees have an added layer of oppression from gender discrimination.
4) 1 in 5 women refugees experience sexual violence.
Women refugees and internally displaced women suffer from marginalization, sexual and gender-based violence, and child marriage. Some experience sexual and gender-based violence as they flee conflict. In camps or due to poverty, some women and girls may be kidnapped, trafficked, or forced into marriage. In fact, 9 out of 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage in fragile contexts, long-ingrained gender norms pressure girls into vulnerable situations. And as coronavirus constraints trap many women and girls with their abusers, domestic abuse has seen a spike.
5) Refugee women could generate and contribute $1.4 trillion to the annual global GDP.
Contrary to the myth that refugees are unskilled and uneducated, many of them have much to contribute. While some refugees might have never had the chance to gain formal education, many are highly educated and highly skilled.
Many refugees face barriers to inclusion in local economies, which makes finding stability for their families a challenge. Negative economic impacts related to coronavirus strictures have made finances harder. For women refugees, the barriers are even higher as gender discrimination closes doors or leads to lower pay. Yet if we invested in economic opportunities for women refugees, we could help close gaps in poverty, gender equality, and inclusive work – all while helping economies on a local and global scale.
Throughout the years, Women for Women International has been able to witness firsthand the dangers and obstacles faced by refugees. They have barely escaped war, and many refugee women face threats of gender-based sexual violence and early marriage in their pursuit of safety.
We invest in the power of women refugees to rebuild their lives, their families, and their communities. We have expanded our programme to help more women forcibly displaced by conflict and connect them to life-changing resources, skills, knowledge, and connections. Women have the power to transform their own lives and our world, to make it better for everyone.
The friendly environment at the training centre and connections I made with other women changed my life.
Women from our programme in Iraq share messages of hope with the global sisterhood.
Unable to find work as a refugee, Shireen desperately wanted to learn a new skill that could help her provide for her family. Shireen learnt how to sew, but she gained more than the ability to make clothes: she learnt about her worth and value as a woman.