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Call to world leaders: girls and women must be at the center of your refugee response

by Katja Iversen, Women Deliver | Women Deliver
Monday, 19 September 2016 10:10 GMT

A woman sits with her child after migrants and refugees tried to open the border fence at a makeshift camp at the Greek-Macedonian border near the village of Idomeni, Greece, April 7, 2016. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Global leaders continue to overlook girls’ and women’s potential to spearhead the global refugee response

In the midst of the global refugee and migrant crisis, girls and women are stepping up for their families and communities. Yet global leaders continue to overlook girls’ and women’s potential to spearhead the global refugee response.

Take this week at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). Global leaders will gather in New York to determine how to strengthen international support for refugees and migrant. However, girls and women are left off the High-Level Summit’s agenda, despite the fact that they and their children make up the majority of refugees and migrants entering Europe and have unique needs, as well as tremendous power to create change.

We cannot afford to miss this opportunity to put girls and women at the center of the world’s refugee and migrant response. They are a force for positive change and the key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals world leaders adopted just a year ago.

We know that when girls and women prosper, their families are healthier and their communities are stronger. But in humanitarian crises, violence, harassment and poor access to maternal, sexual and reproductive health information and services threatens their chances to survive, thrive and contribute to their communities. This week at the special Summit on Refugees and Migrants, leaders must start knocking down these barriers by putting girls and women on the agenda, bringing them to the table and increasing investments in the their health, rights and wellbeing, and in solutions that work.

Take, for example, UNFPA’s Safe Spaces program, which is led by girls and women in refugee camps. Through Safe Spaces, UNFPA and their UN, regional and global partners, such as the Arab Women Organization (AWO) and International Rescue Committee (IRC), partner with women to create spaces where girls and women can be physically and emotionally free from the risks and stresses of refugee camps.

And it propels. It was at a UNFPA-supported safe space in Egypt that Huda, a Syrian refugee, came together with several other young refugee women to establish Syriana, an initiative to help Syrian women develop their skills and support themselves. Huda is a perfect example of the tremendous potential girls and women in refugee settings possess.

That’s not where their impact ends. Girls and women in refugee settings are giving back to their communities in countless ways. Consider Bazoza Lina, a Women Deliver Young Leader and World Contraception Day Ambassador who’s working with conflict-affected young girls and women in Burundi to increase access to contraception and reduce maternal mortality.

Effective, collaborative programs for girls and women in refugee settings exist, just as there are female entrepreneurs making a lot of out very little in some of the worst settings of the world. In the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, women are contributing to the development of some of the community’s 3,000 businesses, selling everything from wheat ugali to wedding dresses.

These solutions and initiatives should be scaled up – not just for girls and women, but with girls and women.

Throughout UNGA this week, Women Deliver and many other organizations and partnerships, like UN Women, Every Woman Every Child, and advocates from around the world will mobilize communities and raise awareness about the importance of investing in girls and women on the move and in refugee settings. It’s important that leaders listen – and ACT. 

Leaders attending this week’s Summit have acknowledged the unique needs of girls and women in the Declaration on Refugees and Migrants. Now, they must make an actionable commitment to invest in programs that directly address the challenges girls and women face, by harnessing the power that girls and women possess.

Katja Iversen is President/CEO of Women Deliver