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November 25, 2013

Setting Good Goals: Including Women and Girl Refugees in the Development Agenda

by Asylum Access

In March 2014, Asylum Access will be attending the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women’s (CWS) fifty-eighth session to discuss the progress of gender equality and economic empowerment of female refugees with government and UN officials from around the world. In anticipation of its visit, Asylum Access submitted a written statement to the Commission, identifying the major barriers female refugees experience when seeking access to livelihood opportunities, education, health and gender equality.

Peacekeeping - UNMIL

Our submission specifically reviewed the implementation of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), contending that MDG programs must be inclusive of women and girl refugees to be truly effective. As the 2015 target date for the achievement of the MDGs draws near, the submission called upon governments and UN entities to make certain that female refugees are included in the post 2015 development agenda.

Greater efforts must be taken to make self-reliance, economic empowerment and social inclusion a sustainable reality for female refugees. Likewise, access to justice, including access to judicial relief should be made available to refugee populations to ensure that female refugees are able to assert their fundamental rights and become participatory residents in their country of refuge. Programs that are designed to advance country development through the eradication of disease and increased education should be made as accessible to female refugees as made to nationals, ensuring that programs and policies are applied equally and without discrimination.

There are nearly 8 million women and girl refugees in the world today, a number that is only increasing as international conflicts worsen in both scale and duration. The vast majority of these individuals are forced to live in displacement for years, and sometimes decades on end. Despite the enduring nature of displacement, limited international attention has been devoted to the human rights and development needs of refugees beyond access to humanitarian aid. Thus, refugee “protection” is conceived in unsustainable terms, and refugees are seen as a humanitarian concern rather than a development concern.

As made clear in the submission, if governments and the UN seek to achieve true global development, stronger action needs to be taken to see that women refugees, one of the most disenfranchised and impoverished populations in the world, are not ignored by development actors. Progress towards the MDG necessarily requires that the human rights and development needs of female refugees are accounted for and addressed. In order to achieve this end, better inter-agency cooperation between UNHCR and development actors should take place to ensure that women refugees have equal access to MDG programs.

Women and girl refugee populations are no longer subject to the protection of their country of origin, and often have limited access to rights and protection in their country of refuge. This gap in protection can be more specifically addressed through targeted application of the MDGs to address the human rights and development needs of the forcibly displaced.

Anna Wirth is the Global Policy Fellow at Asylum Access. She  previously studied and practiced law in Melbourne, Australia (Monash University) and received her European Master’s in Human Rights and Democratisation (E.MA) from EIUC, in partnership with University of Helsinki.

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