2019 ended with a resurgence of the refugee crisis in Syria. As the world turned the corner into 2020, COVID-19 became a global threat to refugees and displaced people everywhere, especially women and girls.
The pandemic doesn’t replace existing challenges but complicates them. Ethnic tensions, political strife, famine, climate change, and terrorism continue to uproot millions of lives. As coronavirus widens inequality gaps and threatens more displacement, it’s up to us to invest in providing the opportunities and services to support women refugees during this time and as they rebuild.
This World Refugee Day, take a look at a few facts about the state of refugees today:
1) Refugees bear the brunt of COVID-19's impact on health and economic insecurity.
In the crowded camps where refugees and displaced people live, coronavirus becomes a large risk. Overcrowding makes social distancing a challenge that can fuel the spread of disease. Camps like the ones in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh can have 8.5 times the population density of the Diamond Princess cruise ship. On top of this, inadequate sanitation and disruptions in humanitarian aid compounds fragile health conditions for refugees.
Refugees who found work or had small businesses find themselves without income due to lockdowns. With savings drying up, many find themselves pushed into poverty.
2) Women and children make up most of the people forcibly displaced by renewed conflict in Syria.
Since last December, a resurgence in violence in northwest Syria forced more than 900,000 people to flee their homes. About 80 percent of those people are women and children, now forced into surrounding areas, some in camps where resources are scarce and weather conditions harsh. In places like Syria, where women had been making advances in gender equality, disease and displacement threaten that progress.
3) 50 percent of refugees, internally displaced, or stateless populations are women and girls.
UN Women reports that of the 70.8 million people who have been forced into displacement, about half are women and girls. Women are often the first responders when crisis hits yet their voices are often left out of policies and that are designed to protect them. In addition to poverty and other issues that all refugees may face, women refugees have an added layer of oppression from gender discrimination.
4) 1 in 5 women refugees experience sexual violence.
Women refugees and internally displaced women suffer from marginalization, sexual and gender-based violence, and child marriage. Some experience sexual and gender-based violence as they flee conflict. In camps or due to poverty, some women and girls may be kidnapped and trafficked. And with 9 out of 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage in fragile contexts, long-ingrained gender norms pressure girls into vulnerable situations. And as coronavirus lockdowns trap many women and girls with their abusers, domestic abuse is seeing a spike.
5) Refugee women could generate and contribute $1.4 trillion to the annual global GDP.
Contrary to the myth that refugees are unskilled and uneducated, many of them have much to contribute to any economy and place they live. While some refugees might have never had the chance to gain formal education, many are highly educated and highly skilled.
Many refugees face barriers to inclusion in local economies, which makes finding stability for their families a challenge. Lockdowns due to coronavirus have made finances harder. For women refugees, the barriers are even higher as gender discrimination closes doors or leads to lower pay. Yet if we invested in economic opportunities for women refugees, we could help close gaps in poverty, gender equality, and inclusive work – all while helping economies on a local and global scale.
Throughout the years, Women for Women International has been able to witness firsthand the dangers and obstacles faced by refugees. They have barely escaped war, and many refugee women face threats of gender-based sexual violence and early marriage in their pursuit of safety.
We invest in the power of women refugees to rebuild their lives, their families, and their communities. We have expanded our program to help more women forcibly displaced by conflict and connect them to life-changing resources, skills, knowledge, and connections. Women have the power to transform their own lives and our world, to make it better for everyone.
And as health crises combine with conflict, we know that women survivors of war need our support now more than ever.
Join us and stand in solidarity with women refugees. Pledge your support.