Women and girls make up around half of all refugees and displaced people worldwide. In times of forced displacement, women and girls can be especially vulnerable but they are not weak. With help from UNHCR, refugee women are participating equally in decision-making, accessing economic opportunities and building better futures for themselves and their families.
This International Women’s Day, we’re sharing the stories of women whose strength and resilience serve as inspiration for people around the world.
In 2015, Annick fled unrest in Burundi with her husband and three children, finding refuge in Kigali, Rwanda. Accustomed to being financially independent in Burundi, she quickly sought out ways to earn a living. She was referred to a local business consulting firm that works with UNHCR to train and support refugee entrepreneurs, and now runs a small shop selling clean energy gas cylinders. “They gave me strength and hope to continue,” she says.
At just 12-years-old, Fatimata, a young Malian refugee in Mbera camp, escaped an arranged marriage. When she learned of her impending marriage, Fatimata ran to the nearest school for help. There, she was able to get support from the child safety network, established by UNHCR and partners to provide protection for children in the camp. “Now that the marriage is off I’m not afraid anymore,” she says. “I’m happy I can go to school.”
65-year-old Mama Elizabeth lives in a remote part of South Sudan. A refugee from Sudan, Mama Elizabeth is one of 48 volunteers known as ‘guardian angels,’ who advocate against sexual and gender-based violence in the refugee camps where they live. She has opened her home as a temporary safe shelter for survivors of such violence.
Clémence comes from a small village south of Kitchanga in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She and her family were forced to flee their home in 2008. Despite leaving her old school behind, Clémence continued her studies at Kahe refugee camp and eventually graduated and went on to study sewing. Now she is putting her sewing skills to good use, making reusable menstrual pads at a factory built by UNHCR that allows Congolese refugees to work together with local community members. “I was so happy to be selected for this project. I would like to stay involved for as long as I can,” says Clémence.
Though she herself is not a refugee, Catalina knows the intimacies of life as a displaced person. Most of her family members were once refugees and she has committed her life to helping displaced people; she serves as UNHCR’s Head of Field Unit in Manaus, Brazil. Catalina helps displaced Venezuelans learn their rights and access basic services. “Watching them rebuild their lives and become stronger and more confident is very rewarding,” she says.
Women like Annick, Fatimata, Mama Elizabeth, Clémence and Catalina are showing the world that women and girls of all ages overcome the most challenging circumstances every single day. They are strong and resilient, and they are amazing role models for this International Women’s Day.
You can help support displaced women and girls around the world by becoming a monthly donor today.