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Quest For Peace

Struggle Of Refugee Women

Struggle Of Refugee Women
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Dil Afrose Duetee :
Each year on June 20 we celebrate World Refugee Day events in order to draw the public attention to the millions of refugees and internally displaced persons worldwide who have been forced to flee their homes due to war, conflict and persecution. Most vulnerable section of the refugees are refugee women who face gender-specific challenges in navigating daily life at every stage of their migration experience. Common challenges for all refugee women are access to healthcare and physical abuse and instances of discrimination, sexual violence and human trafficking.
An increasing number of refugees worldwide are women and children. In many cases, they are forced to leave their homes due to armed conflicts, insecurity or generalized violence. For women and girls, their migration experience is shaped by some particular features, the roots of which lie in the gendered forms of violence they may face throughout their journey. Some may leave their country of origin because of experiences of gender-based violence or in fear of such violence, while others may seek to escape the threat of female genital mutilation or forced marriage. Without regular pathways to reach a country where they can seek international protection, women often have to resort to dangerous routes. During their journey, they are exposed to sexual and gender-based violence, including rape, sexual exploitation and abuse, sexual harassment, psychological violence, trafficking, early and forced marriage, transactional sex and domestic violence. Women travelling alone and those only accompanied by their children are particularly at risk of abuse, as are pregnant women, adolescent girls, unaccompanied minors and women with disabilities. Despite their experiences of violence and trauma, refugee women and girls undertake risky journeys to a safer and independent future, showing incredible strength, self-reliance and resilience. However, once they reach their destination, many women and young girls still face risks due to limited access to support services, a lack of effective procedures to identify survivors of gender-based violence and inadequate reception conditions in accommodation facilities.
The vulnerability of refugee women and children should be taken into account in order to offer adequate reception conditions, including accommodation in women-only centres and centres for vulnerable persons on the basis of their informed consent. Women-only accommodation centres should create a "safe space" for single women and girls travelling alone or with their children, and offer a comprehensive and holistic range of services that are tailored to their needs and focus on enhancing their empowerment and independence. Refugee women and girls should be provided with comprehensive information on their rights and the services they are entitled to in a language and manner that they can understand. Awareness-raising among refugee women themselves is a matter of legal empowerment and involves a bottom-up approach to equip women with the knowledge, confidence and skills to realise their rights. Raising awareness on gender-based violence against refugee women and girls should take place at all levels. This includes reaching a wide range of target audiences such as reception and accommodation centre staff, healthcare practitioners, social workers, refugee communities, policy-makers, the general public and the media.
Protecting the rights of migrant, refugee and asylum-seeking (who have fled their homes as refugees do, but their claim to refugee status is not yet definitively evaluated in the country to which they fled) women and girls is a new strategic objective for the Council of Europe's work to promote gender equality and women's rights under the Gender Equality Strategy 2018-2023.Many migrant, refugee and asylum-seeking women and girls have been exposed to various forms of gender-based violence, either in their country of origin, during the journey to Europe, or upon arrival. Due consideration should be given to their needs and circumstances and gender-responsive measures should be adopted to prevent discrimination, violence, harassment, trafficking and other forms of exploitation and abuse - including in times of crisis and natural disasters. In addition, measures need to be taken to ensure that migrant, refugee and asylum-seeking women have access to their human and social rights in relation to individual freedom, employment, housing, health, education, social protection and welfare where applicable; and access to information about their rights and the services available. Council of Europe and other international instruments should serve as a blueprint for all efforts and measures undertaken by member States to protect the human rights of migrant, refugee and asylum-seeking women and girls.
Safe and legal channels to potential host countries must be made available for women fleeing war, violence and persecution, in order to prevent women and girls from resorting to dangerous routes that exponentially increase the risk of violence. Legal alternatives may include resettlement, medical evacuation, humanitarian admission programmes, private sponsorship, student scholarships, and labour mobility schemes. National, regional, and local authorities should develop and implement protection measures to ensure the safety of refugee women and girls in reception and accommodation centres and to guarantee a gender-sensitive asylum procedure. These measures should follow a comprehensive approach based on international standards. Sufficient financial and human resources should be allocated for the implementation of policies and programmes, as well as regular monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to ensure measuring of progress and to assess the need for change. Public institutions should support innovative projects implemented by grassroots women's organisations, since they are often better positioned to reach migrant and refugee women. Sustainable and adequate funding should be provided to women's NGOs providing services to refugee women. Finally, policy-makers should explore good practices from all corners of the world and adapt those that are transferable to their local conditions. Thus, they can learn from experience gained by others and increase the effectiveness of measures taken.

(Dil Afrose Duetee is a development activist. E-mail: duetee01@yahoo.com)

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