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5 Facts About What Refugee Women Face

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The number of forcibly displaced people has reached a staggering number—over 100 million according to UNHCR—and the number only continues to rise.

Shireen_Erbil_Iraq_Photo_Alison Baskerville

Our world has experienced political, social and cultural upheaval unmatched by any other period in our history. New and continued conflicts compounded by the economic impacts of coronavirus is forcing hundreds of millions out of their homes and into a world without healthcare or social support systems.  

Now with the war in Ukraine waging on, the number of people seeking refuge outside of their home countries or displaced within is higher than ever—and it's women and girls who are suffering the most. 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) 1 in 5 women refugees experience sexual violence.  

Women refugees and internally displaced women suffer from marginalisation, 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. 9 out of 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage in fragile contexts, long-ingrained gender norms pressure girls into vulnerable situations. 

As coronavirus constraints trapped many women and girls with their abusers, domestic abuse saw a spike. And now we are seeing the number of women raped and sexually abused while internally displaced due to the war in Ukraine soar too.

Watch this video where Olena Behnke from the Women for Women International team, and a refugee from Ukraine living in Germany, shares what she has seen and heard about the situation for women:

2) Women and children make up most of the people forcibly displaced by renewed conflict in Syria.  

There are 6.9 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 over 100 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) 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 continues to pose 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%

COVID-19 restrictions may have relaxed here in the UK, but the pandemic is still with us - and its impact is still unfolding all around the world. Many have found themselves pushed into poverty as a result - due to losing family members, needing to leave their jobs due to sickness or as a result of lockdowns crippling their businesses or ability to carry out their work. The effect of this has meant that millions, including a disproportionate amount of women and children, have found themselves pushed below the poverty line further.


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. 

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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.

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.