A Crisis Within A Crisis: The Disparate Experience of Refugee Women

Today is World Refugee Day, an internationally recognized day for a crisis that has swelled the corners of the world and is proliferating every day. The word “refugee” stems from the French word réfugié, originally referring only to Protestants who fled France in the 17th century after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, marking an end to their religious freedoms. Today, it refers to anyone who is forced to flee their home because of persecution, war, violence, and even climate change, and it applies to 26 million people worldwide. Of that number, 67% come from just five countries: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Myanmar. While the plight of refugees everywhere is indisputably dire, there is a subset that faces unique and often overlooked challenges – women and girls who make up 50% of the entire refugee population.

As the crisis prevails as a hot topic on the world stage, the specific experience of female refugees is often denied the dedicated focus it deserves. Women’s rights are making headway on a broad scale across the globe, but it is critical that female refugees are included in the narrative so they do not get left behind in the movement for progress and equality. 

The Challenges Facing Refugee Women and Girls 

Women around the world are challenged with adversity due to their gender, but for those who are displaced from their homes, these challenges take on an added layer of hardship. Predominantly, the issue of gender-based violence runs rampant within refugee populations, with many women and girls confined with their abusers in refugee camps with no adequate resources for protection. A staggering 1 in 5 women refugees experience sexual violence and many young girls are subjected to kidnapping, trafficking, and child marriage as they are displaced. With the COVID-19 pandemic pervading the world, the issue of gender-based violence among refugees only grew worse, increasing by over 50% in crisis-ridden countries. 

As refugee women and girls navigate a turbulent path, they are faced with another obstacle that is impossible to avoid – their periods. Period poverty disproportionately impacts refugee populations with many struggling to obtain menstrual hygiene products, or even a private space to manage their periods. Additionally, many are either fleeing from or arriving in countries that have a stigma around menstruation, preventing them from seeking assistance from international aid agencies. 

For a group that is subjected to such a deplorable level of oppression, they have an astounding potential for economic success and as overall contributors to both local and international economies. A report by the International Rescue Committee showed that refugee women could generate up to $1.4 trillion to annual global GDP if the employment and earnings gender gaps were closed in the top 30 refugee hosting countries. These host countries, which include Turkey, Uganda, Lebanon, Germany, and the U.S. among others, have leverage to invest in opportunities for refugee women and address detrimental practices that bar them from having an equal shot at economic mobility, yet they have largely failed to do so.

How You Can Help 

Luckily, there are many aid groups both internationally and locally that are working to address the refugee crisis. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the UN Refugee Agency both have a vast amount of resources and information to educate yourself on the conflict in addition to donation options that directly help grassroots efforts mobilizing in affected countries. The Women’s Refugee Commission focuses specifically on female refugees and offers similar information and support avenues. You can also look within your local community to find out which organizations are supporting refugees and volunteer to teach english, help with paperwork, or assist in any general areas they may need. Refugee women warrant a place in the progress we are fighting for and it’s time we give them the support they deserve. 

Kara is a writer, creative advertising professional, and cat mom based in New York City. She is passionate about women’s rights on both a domestic and international scale, particularly in the realms of women’s healthcare and menstrual hygiene. When she is not writing, Kara enjoys reading, running, traveling, and photography. She is shamelessly addicted to Sudoku puzzles. 

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