UNHCR’s latest report Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2015, states that 65.3 million individuals were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or human right violation, an increase of 5.8 million from the previous year. Among those displaced, women and girls are most vulnerable as they are explicit targets of violence and face specific threats as a result of their gender, which includes sexual exploitation and violence, human trafficking, and a denial of their basic civil rights.
Reports show that women and children, particularly girls, do not have adequate protection while they are in refugee camps. Refugee women face treats of rape and exploitation at the hands of police officers, smugglers, and fellow refugees. Even though the United Nations (UN) describes rape as a “weapon of war,” women and girls are reluctant to seek help due to the stigma that victims face in many cultures. Many women and girls fear being ostracized for speaking out or being further victimized by their communities for having violated traditionally held concepts of “honor.”
Recognizing the plight of women and girls, the UN included gender equality and empowerment of women and girls as one of the goals in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which went onto effect as of January 1, 2016. The idea is to eradicate all forms of discrimination, violence, and exploitation towards women and girls by 2030. It also aims for equal economic opportunities for women, and advocates for access to sexual and reproductive healthcare.
During the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants on September 19, 2016, the President of the UN General Assembly, H.E. Peter Thomson, highlighted the vulnerable condition of women and girls on the move in his opening remarks and emphasized the 2030 Agenda goals and targets that need to be accomplished within the next 14 years to help address this universal concern.
As the United States prepares for 110,000 refugees in fiscal year 2017, there should be special focus on vulnerable women and girls and how they can be properly integrated in the society. Emphasis should be on formal counseling as well as informal support groups where women can bond and provide support to each other. Welcoming communities should encourage programs such as We Made This, which provides skills, mutual support, and purpose to newly resettled women. Development of psycho-social programs today can heal many women and girls from past traumas and give them the path towards greater self-sufficiency and, in many cases, mentors and leaders in their new communities.