On January 12, 2010, a massive earthquake struck Haiti, killing more than 200,000 people and rendering almost 2 million homeless. Five years later, the country is still struggling to rebuild. Since then, natural disasters have continued, affecting millions more people around the world. Untold thousands have died, been injured or lost their livelihoods as a result.
Women and girls are particularly vulnerable in disasters. If that is to ever change, steps must be taken before disaster strikes to address the particular needs of women and girls to ensure that they not only survive but maintain their dignity while recovering and rebuilding their lives.
2014 has been an amazing year for the Women's Refugee Commission. Check out our new infographic and take a glance at what we were able to accomplish this year with your support. On behalf of the Women’s Refugee Commission, thank you so much. We hope that you will continue to support our work and allow us to accomplish even more great things in 2015.
Every year, the international community marks 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, and this year's theme is "Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Gender-Based Violence!" Militarism is both a direct and indirect cause of violence against refugee women and girls--they are vulnerable both to conflict and to the violence that militarism imbues in societies.
On Tuesday, the Security Council met for the 14th time to hold an open debate on Women, Peace and Security. It was the first time that the theme of a Security Council open debate was about refugee and internally displaced women and girls.
A young mother, Rosa, fled Central America this July after gangs violently threatened the family with kidnapping, the destruction of their home and death. Rosa and her seven-year old daughter, Ana, were detained at the Artesia Family Detention Facility shortly after entering the United States. Traumatized by conditions in her home country and the added stress of confinement, Ana was unable to keep down any food. Her weight loss became so extreme that medical staff told Rosa, they would force feed her daughter through a catheter.
The number of people forced to flee their homes due to conflict has passed 50 million worldwide, a level not seen since World War II. This is one of the reasons why the UN Security Council will focus on women refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) during its annual open debate on women, peace, and security on October 28.
“In emergencies, we continue to hear the excuse that we can't stop to think about people's specific needs, and that usually means women and girls lose out,” according to Elizabeth Cafferty, senior advocacy officer at the Women's Refugee Commission.
"Never before in United Nations history have we had so many refugees, displaced people and asylum seekers," UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told government ministers and representatives gathered in Geneva to discuss the state of the world's refugees. This was the first time Ban Ki-moon had ever addressed UNHCR's Executive Committee (ExCom) and the first time in nearly 10 years that a UN Secretary General had attended the annual meeting. His presence was perhaps a reflection of the gravity and magnitude of the global refugee crisis: 51.2 million people worldwide currently displaced by conflict -- if refugees were a nation, it would be the 26th largest in the world.
Disaster Risk Reduction has a very simple premise: don't wait until disaster strikes to protect people from devastation. Crises—both man-made and natural—create waves of displaced people, many of whose communities and resources have been devastated by past disasters. So it is the humanitarian community's responsibility to ensure that forewarned is forearmed, to help displaced populations prepare for future disasters before they strike.
Conflicts and natural disasters often recur with recognizable and predictable patterns. Every civil war that began since 2003 was in a country that had had a previous civil war. Droughts, storms, floods and earthquakes often revisit the same territories and populations.
South Sudan’s first female president is living in a refugee camp. She is a teenager with a dream—and a daily routine that doesn’t include the camp’s makeshift school. Instead, she is responsible for household duties. She walks long distances to collect firewood. She stays home to care for her older sister, who has an intellectual disability.
Yet from this hardened path, she nurtures aspiration. Like the adolescent girls in our own lives—our daughters, nieces, and granddaughters—her dream is strong. In a calm, confident voice, she shares it with me:
Ayen wants to be the president of South Sudan.
Any young person’s chance of becoming a nation’s leader is admittedly slim, and the odds are uniquely stacked against Ayen. But probability is not destiny. And the theme of this year’s Day of the Girl Child sets us firmly in the right direction: Empowering Adolescent Girls: Ending the Cycle of Violence. By putting power, knowledge, and assets in girls’ hands, we can collectively tilt the balance in Ayen’s favor—and in the favor of millions of girls like her.
The Administration's recent expansion of family detention comes at a tragic and horrific cost. This week, allegations of sexual abuse and assault were revealed inside Immigration and Customs Enforcement's new family detention center. I wish I was surprised, but unfortunately, this isn't the first time we have heard this. Rampant sexual assault inside detention facilities has been documented and reported for more than fourteen years.