You know their names. Madeline Albright (former U.S. Secretary of State). Rita Ora (award-winning singer). Alek Wek (international model). Isabel Allende (prize-winning writer). What do these remarkably accomplished women have in common?
They were once refugees.
On March 8, International Women’s Day, let us celebrate the extraordinary achievements of women refugees—those who gained fame from their exceptional abilities and those who, although toiling in obscurity, work tirelessly to provide for their families in camps and other marginalized settings around the world.
Globally, gender inequality drives hunger and poverty for women. According to UN Women, 60% of the chronically hungry people worldwide are women. Women make up over two-thirds of the world’s illiterate population. Men’s wages are higher than women’s wages even in Western industrialized countries. Women have less access to healthcare and have an increased risk of violence for all of these reasons.
Women’s burdens are exponentially increased with displacement.
Women make up more than half of refuges worldwide. They shoulder enormous burdens warehoused in camps or living on the margins in urban centers. Women take primary responsibility for the labor and time-intensive work of caring for children, acquiring food and preparing it, caring for the elderly and disabled and, on top of the day-to-day family maintenance, even bringing income into the family. The arduousness of daily survival is further complicated by the dangers of sexual and gender-based violence perpetrated against women while at their most vulnerable.
Journalist Marija Obradovic, writing about sexual and gender-based violence against women refugees, sums it up here:
So it is that female refugees across the world are highly vulnerable to all forms of sexual and physical violence. In addition to the dangers women face from contesting armed groups, once on the move from the conflict zone, they are also at risk of being brutalised by human traffickers or even border security forces. Even after exiting the conflict zone, safety can be elusive. Staying in a refugee camp within the country of origin or seeking protection elsewhere brings serious threats to women’s security, freedom and health.
USCRI recognizes and applauds the exceptional achievements of the exceptional women who were once refugees.
USCRI recognizes and applauds the millions of ordinary refugee women who work tirelessly and fearlessly to maintain their families and their communities under the most draconian conditions on earth—from the border camps in Syria to the urban centers in Johannesburg.
This year’s theme, “Each for Equal,” is based on the idea that collectively, we can make change happen. Collectively, we can each help to create a gender equal world.
We can all choose to be #EachforEqual.
So let’s remember the movers and shakers of the world who were once refugees. And let’s not forget today’s refugees who heroically perform the ordinary day-to-day work to keep their families alive and their dreams intact while waiting or better times.
Change can happen. What will you do?