08 March 2006
"Sick of the rampant corruption in the distribution of supplies in Lainé camp in southern Guinea, a group of refugee women decided to do something about it. They challenged the camp leadership. Running on an anti-corruption platform, a refugee woman, Nancy Washington, was elected president and 16 out of 27 camp representatives were also women", said Sr Maria Irizar, JRS Guinea Director.On 8 March, International Womens Day, JRS calls attention to the fact that refugee women can be leaders and can contribute fully to their communities, if steps are taken to ensure access to education, to employment, and to participation in decisions that affect their lives. JRS urges governments to fund programmes for displaced persons which promote women's participation and equality, and where necessary measures to positively discriminate in favour of women.
"Nine months on, Nancy's struggle against entrenched profiteering in the camp is well underway. It shows when refugee women are given genuine opportunities to participate in decision-making, all of the community benefits. We hope that getting women into leadership positions will also result in greater protection for women," added Sr Irizar.
Regrettably what happened in Lainé camp is not the norm. Women refugees face additional discrimination, as refugees and as women. Often as women they are denied access to education and to the workforce, the right to property, just to mention a few. As refugees, forced to flee their homes, they live without the normal support provided by extended family and friends.
All over the world JRS advocates for the rights of refugee women to participate fully in their communities and to take on leadership roles. In Uganda, its affirmative action programmes for girlseducation has resulted in substantial increases in participation rates, educational attainment and attitudes towards the value of educating women. In Nepal JRS has insisted on the admission of all the Bhutanese refugee girls to the camp schools, and on the recruitment of women to teaching and non-teaching posts.
Refugee women are fully capable of making decisions about their own wellbeing and that of their families. Refugee women can be agents of equality, development and reconciliation. Aware of their human rights, refugee women would be in a better position to lead their communities and challenge discriminatory laws and practices, such as restrictions on their rights to own or inherit property.
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