Can you imagine having to leave your home country following the outbreak of war or because you belong to an ethnic group that's being persecuted? Perhaps whilst pregnant or with children? We've been deeply affected by what women fleeing violence have to go through and are therefore supporting the UNHCR's Women on the Run initiative on the 111th International Women's Day from March 8th to March 10th.
82.4 million people are displaced worldwide, most of them within their own home country. Half of them are women and girls. The current situation in Ukraine is tragically making it clear just how quickly fleeing one's home can become the only way out of a dangerous situation, even in Europe. According to the most recent statistics, 68% of the displaced worldwide come from just 5 countries: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar. In fact, in many cases, women and girls are the ones who are most affected. For example, 80% of internally displaced persons in Afghanistan in 2021 were women and children.
85% of refugees are in turn taken in by low-income countries - A fact that industrialised countries unfortunately often prefer not to acknowledge.
When their lives are threatened and there's no prospect of a better future for their children, many women see only one way out: Fleeing to another country, or even another continent. Many are told beforehand about paradise in Europe, the "land of unlimited opportunities". Everything will be better there where it's easy to find work and even study. Unfortunately, the reality is often different and many are stranded in refugee camps like Moria without a work permit or prospects. For many, their journey ends in slavery and sexual exploitation.
Nobody decides to flee voluntarily: Persecution and/or violent threats force many to leave their homes, resulting in the loss of money and time, and a lot of suffering.
Conditions on the run are precarious, often including sexualised violence, no feeling of safety, no hygienic care and no access to food for days on end.
The current COVID-19 situation has unfortunately made the situation even more difficult. For people who were already on the fringes of society or at risk before the pandemic, the situation has worsened over the past two years. For example, violence against women has increased in their home countries and beyond. The low-wage sector and informal work have often collapsed completely as a result of the pandemic, and many women have lost their livelihoods as a result.
Many refugee girls around the world have had to abandon their education and instead start work. Unfortunately, when poverty increases we also see a growth in forced marriage, child labour and human trafficking.
Why women flee
Women are generally displaced for the same reasons as men: Political commitment, beliefs or belonging to a specific ethnic or social group. However, there are additional reasons that do not affect men equally.
Women-specific reasons for fleeing include sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation, forced marriages or domestic violence.
The journey itself also entails particular risks for women. Many are travelling with their children. Unfortunately, access to menstrual hygiene products, nappies and the like is often problematic. Pregnant women and the sick have no access to medical care.
Aid organisations play a very central role in this area: For example, they ensure that children born while on the run receive birth certificates. UNHCR also works to ensure that women are able to pass on their nationality to children, ensuring that there are no stateless children, and that women's specific needs are adequately addressed in asylum procedures.
Despite all these hurdles, women and girls show great resilience, inventiveness and courage in tackling these issues. In many cases, they're the ones who find the strength to rebuild not only their own lives but also the lives of their families.
UNHCR specifically addresses the needs of women. This includes the provision of safe shelters and separate sanitation facilities. UNHCR organises programmes to help women and girls improve leadership skills, overcome barriers to education and seize opportunities.
We would like to support this important work. And now you can too:
On International Women's Day on March 8th, we're supporting programmes for women refugees with a donation of €1 per order.
Or use the official UNHCR donation account if you want to donate directly:
UNHCR account 0958 3600 300 at Bank Austria, BLZ 12000
IBAN: AT 3911 0000 95836 00300
Purpose: "Women on the Run"