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March 27, 2024

How one refugee leader in Rhode Island is building inclusive communities and empowering women

Teddi Jallow at the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva, Switzerland, December 2023

Teddi Jallow is the Executive Director and Co-founder of the Refugee Dream Center in Providence, Rhode Island. The Center provides direct services to refugees, including adult education, employment assistance, youth support and language and interpretation services. In December 2023, Teddi attended the Global Refugee Forum as a U.S. delegate and joined a panel on the importance of robust resettlement programs. Teddi is a former refugee from Gambia who was resettled in Providence in 2009.  

How critical is it to invest in refugee women and girls?

Investing in women and girls in refugee spaces is crucial for creating inclusive, resilient and thriving communities. Advocating for policies and funding that prioritize the needs and rights of refugee women and girls is essential for systemic change and advancing gender equality within this space. Combating gender-based violence and ensuring the safety and dignity of women and girls in refugee contexts are paramount.

At the Refugee Dream Center, I witness firsthand the transformative impact of our women's and girls' programs on our community. These initiatives benefit our community and profoundly impact the lives of the participants. For refugees coming from diverse cultural backgrounds, concepts such as gender balance and women's empowerment may be unfamiliar or undervalued.

By continuing to advocate for gender equality and supporting initiatives that empower refugee women and girls, we can work towards building a more equitable and inclusive society for everyone.           

Have you faced specific challenges as a woman leading a refugee-serving organization?          

As a refugee woman leader, I've encountered significant challenges in navigating biases and earning respect within and outside the organization. Despite being the director, some stakeholders still prefer to speak with a male leader, highlighting entrenched gender biases that persist even in progressive spaces like refugee-serving organizations.

Overcoming these challenges has demanded resilience and a firm commitment to promoting gender equality. I've had to work harder to demonstrate my capabilities, often facing skepticism solely because of my gender. 

Teddi Jallow speaks on a panel about refugee resettlement at the Global Refugee Forum

How has facing these challenges impacted the way you lead?

Despite these obstacles, I bring unique strengths to the table.

My leadership style is characterized by empathy, collaboration and a deep understanding of gender dynamics. These qualities allow me to foster inclusive and responsive programming that addresses the specific needs of women and girls in refugee communities. 

By championing gender equality and empowering women, I’m challenging societal norms and contributing to the overall resilience and well-being of refugees. While the road may be tough, the impact of empowering women in refugee-serving organizations is immeasurable. By breaking down barriers and advocating for gender equality, we pave the way for a more just and inclusive society.

Do you have a message for other refugee women striving for leadership roles? 

Believe in yourself. You possess incredible strength and resilience and can overcome any obstacle. Remember, your voice is invaluable, and your contributions are indispensable in meeting your community's needs. 

Stay dedicated to advocating for and amplifying the voices of marginalized women in refugee communities. 

Your leadership has the potential to inspire others.

Empower refugee women around the world…

This Women’s Month, you can help protect and empower refugee women around the world by becoming USA for UNHCR’s newest monthly donor. Your support will help provide refugees with critical assistance during their greatest times of need and help them rebuild for a better future.

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