On Monday, the international community commemorated World Refugee Day. In Malawi, we also commemorated the day with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) leading the commemoration with Government and other key stakeholders.
This year’s commemoration was under the theme “Together for Peace, Tolerance and Prosperity”
UN Women joins UNHCR in commending efforts by the Government of Malawi in fulfilling its international law mandate of hosting refugees. UN Women also recognises that addressing global displacement is a shared responsibility by all.
Our interest in the conditions of refugees stems from our mandate which focuses on specific needs and challenges that women and girls face in crises, as well as the key role that they play as agents of change. Most of those affected in such humanitarian conditions are women and children.
On World Refugee Day, we recognise those who have been uprooted from their homes at an unprecedented scale, leaving some 60 million people displaced worldwide. In our response to this crisis, it is critical that we address the unique needs of women and girl refugees, and provide them with durable opportunities for empowerment.
With such levels of urgent need, normal protection structures often disappear, leaving the human rights of women and girls particularly at risk. They are often explicit targets of violence and subjugation by extremist groups, with an estimated one in five displaced women in complex humanitarian settings having experienced sexual violence.
This number is likely to be an underestimation, given the structural and cultural barriers to reporting such incidents that exist in many parts of the world.
Women and girls are often denied equal access to essential health services and education opportunities. Girls are almost 2.5 times more likely to be out of school in countries affected by conflict, and studies show that girls are less likely to have access to education in situations of displacement than boys.
With health services often absent or overstretched, women and girls are frequently denied the right to basic sexual and reproductive healthcare; 60 per cent of preventable maternal mortality deaths take place in settings of conflict, displacement and natural disasters.
Women refugees have few economic opportunities to build their livelihoods, with their earning options often limited to low-paid and low-skilled informal work in addition to having to carry the burden of unpaid family labour. This increases the risk that refugee women are put in the position where their only option is to engage in transactional sex.
There is an urgent need for humanitarian action to ensure refugee women and girls have access to secure transit routes, safe spaces and protection when they arrive in a host country, and resources and services that will help them build a post-conflict life free from violence and poverty.
Women and girl refugees have an enormous capacity for resilience and the potential to become powerful agents of change. They play an important role in preparing for and responding to crises and their leadership in decision-making is essential for lasting peace and stability.
UN Women remains dedicated to promoting the human rights of displaced women and girls, and ensuring that their voice is heard at the highest levels.
On September 19 2016, the UN will host a High-Level Plenary of the General Assembly in New York to address the large movements of refugees and migrants.
UN Women is working with other UN entities to support member States in ensuring the outcome of this meeting paves way for the protection of the human rights of women and girls in refugee settings and host communities, and empowers them in their capacity for resilience and leadership.