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March 21, 2014

Refugee Rights at the Commission on the Status of Women 58

by Asylum Access

Last week Asylum Access joined more than 6,000 participants from all over the world at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women’s (CSW) 58th session, which lasts from March 10-21. This year’s priority theme was challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for women and girls. To address this theme nearly 135 side events were organized by UN agencies, along with more than 300 parallel events organized by NGO CSW.

In attending CSW, Asylum Access asked the question, how can refugee women and girls be included in the post-2015 development agenda to increase access to their rights? In order to achieve the MDGs amongst refugee women and girls, integrated development programs should be aimed at promoting access to rule of law, work rights and livelihood initiatives, and political participation. See our talking points here.

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In a Joint Statement on Accelerating Progress on the MDGs for Women and Girls, heads of UN agencies noted that,

“The most marginalized groups of women and girls and those who experience multiple forms of exclusion and discrimination are being left behind.”

There are nearly 8 million women and girl refugees in the world, more than 80% of whom live in the world’s poorest countries for an average of 20 years. Many live in constant threat of detention and deportation and are severely restricted in their freedom of movement and access to employment. Given their impoverished and disenfranchised state, women and girl refugees account for one of the most marginalized groups and thus cannot be left behind in the post-2015 development agenda.

In the most recent draft of CSW’s Concluding Recommendations, the Commission affirmed that women’s full enjoyment of human rights and the eradication of poverty were essential for economic and social development and the overall achievement of the MDGs. (para. 6) However, while the Commission noted its concern about the lack of progress for the most marginalized groups of women and girls and how the MDGs are least likely to be achieved for women and girls in countries affected by conflict (para. 9), the Commission still did not make any specific reference to refugees and other forced migrants nor the need for inclusion of these groups in post-2015 development programs.

While reference to the increased vulnerabilities faced by women and girls who are affected by conflict is a step in the right direction, we need to ensure that refugees are not forgotten in the post-2015 development agenda. Development actors at both the national and international level must promote integrated development programs that benefit both refugees and host communities. These development programs should be guided by access to human rights, like the right to work and access to justice, and include programs that promote access to public services (e.g. health, education, and vocational training, and access to financial products, including micro-credit, savings, and insurance).

With the MDGs coming to a close in 2015, it is important to continue to advocate for more robust refugee rights protections, including moving the refugee discussion past short term aid, and toward long term, rights respecting development approaches.

Caitlin Phair is a Legal Policy Intern at Asylum Access. She currently studies law at the University of San Francisco and will be receiving her J.D. and International and Comparative Law Certificate in May 2014.

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