Originally published on Women's eNews
At the end of our visit to the camp for internally displaced people, we thanked the women for sharing their stories. But then they said: visitors come, we talk to them, they listen, leave. Nothing changes for us.
In Myanmar's largest city of Yangon, at a conference bringing together women from around the country, women spoke confidently of their vision for a better future and their role in the political process.
But only a few hundred miles away, in the state of Rakhine, the second poorest in the country, in a crowded camp for families driven from their villages by ethnic and religious violence, the women feared for their lives and their uncertain future.
2013 brought hardship for refugees and unprecedented challenges for those of us seeking to help them. But the year also held moments of success: discoveries, epiphanies, and achievements. Below, our staff have identified some of the Women's Refugee Commission’s biggest and brightest victories. And they've shared what we look forward to accomplishing in 2014.
"Eduardo" was 17 years old when he was apprehended by United States Border Patrol. When we met with him, he told us his shocking story.
Eduardo was crossing the desert near the McAllen Border Patrol Station in Texas, along with a pregnant woman, two boys and a man. When they caught him, Border Patrol agents abused him physically and verbally. They grabbed him by the neck and dragged him along the ground, using their Tasers even though he had not resisted or attempted to run. Eduardo was distressed to see the Border Patrol agents use Tasers on the other people in the group, including the pregnant woman. They took him to la hielera—"the freezer"—as ice-cold holding cells at Border Patrol stations are known. There, guards continued to verbally harass him and the other exhausted children while they tried to sleep.
What is it that, despite the world falling down around us, allows us to lend a hand? What is it that allows us to laugh, to smile, to pick up and go on? Whatever it is, the past week has shown me that Filipinos have got it in their bones.
When I arrived in Guiuan, my host was Renee Patron. A Filipino-American business woman, she was visiting her parents in their home in Guiuan when Typhoon Yolanda struck. Typhoon Yolanda made landfall in Guiuan, and more than half of its housing stock and town center were destroyed or damaged. Further from the town center, out near the beautiful beaches, villages were reduced to rubble. Where they can, the residents have sheltered in their previous plots. They have cleared the debris and salvaged what they could. However, these improvised shelters provide very little real protection from the extreme sun and temperature, and the intermittent rain.
“Break Barriers, Open Doors: for an inclusive society and development for all” is the theme of this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, marked today, December 3rd. A critical component of “breaking barriers” and “opening doors” must be that we look for and engage those who are less visible, those who have less voice, in the disabled community. As December 3rd also falls in the 16 days of Activism against Gender Violence, the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) is calling attention to the needs and capacities of women and girls with disabilities in situations of conflict and crisis. We must learn more about their concerns and ideas to make both humanitarian and development programs accessible to and inclusive of them.
As we participate in 2013’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, my mind returns again and again to Myanmar (also known as Burma). I was privileged to attend the first National Women’s Dialogue: Peace, Security and Development in Myanmar there earlier this month, where more than 350 representatives of women’s organizations came together to discuss women’s security, health, peace-building and conflict resolution. While the country has made progress since the end of autocratic rule a few years ago, women still face many challenges. Both at the conference, and later in displaced persons’ camps, women spoke candidly about how they are targeted for violence and how their rights are routinely violated.
Many of the images from the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan show young men and women mobilizing to help those affected by the crisis. In a report from a makeshift distribution center at Manila airport just three days after the typhoon, the BBC interviewed young students, still in their uniforms, volunteering through the night to pack emergency food for affected regions. Many of the students, some of whom had traveled from different cities, said they would work late into the night and still get up at 6:00 a.m. for school. They were motivated by a sense of sadness, they explained, and an urge to help.
Young people have talents and resources that, if properly tapped, can greatly improve relief efforts. As relief agencies move in to set up emergency programs in the Philippines, they should take steps to build upon the spontaneous, grassroots relief efforts undertaken by affected communities, including those led by youth.
Super Typhoon Haiyan impacted 11.3 million people—that’s more than live in Beijing—and displaced 800,000. Among these, the most vulnerable are women, children, youth and persons with disabilities. Nearly 300,000 pregnant women and new mothers need food aid. Nearly one million children live in the hardest-hit areas, including almost 200,000 adolescent girls.
Women and girls are disproportionately affected by natural disasters: roughly 80 percent of those who died in the 2004 tsunami were women and girls. Why?
“I accept that I’m going to be deported. But please help me take my children with me…”
When I first visited immigration detention centers to research medical care, more and more women were telling me that they couldn't find their children. Back then, I understood neither the problem nor the solution. Now I understand both. So we've developed a guide showing parents how to keep their families together through detention and deportation--and I need your help to get this guide to the mothers and fathers who so desperately need it.
Let me explain with a story. I met Marta in Nogales, Mexico. She sobbed as she told me how her daughter cried, “Mommy, no! Mommy, no!” when she was apprehended in her home in the United States by immigration officials.
Following the UN in autumn is no job for the weary, but it’s exciting. September saw the opening of the General Assembly (GA), with a series of high-level events and a historic focus on people with disabilities. And today, October 18, is a thrilling day for those of us working on the critical area of women, peace and security: the UN Security Council is holding its annual open debate on this issue.