After the Paris terrorist attacks, a plethora of US state governors came out against welcoming refugees to their state. This sort of xenophobic isolationism is nothing new, but it is incredibly dangerous. The ability of people displaced by conflict to find safe passage to a safe destination is a moral imperative, and, what’s more, it’s a feminist issue.
The American Immigration Council says there are 10.5 million refugees in the world, and the US 2015 acceptance cap is 70,000. That’s .007% of the world’s refugees. And that’s using the 10.5 million figure for number of refugees–USA for UNHCR lists it at 59.5 million, meaning the US annually accepts only .0001% of refugees.
This is a feminist issue. Gender plays a big role in the precarity and trauma experienced by displaced people. Women refugees have trouble finding work, and face sexual harassment when they do. Physical and logistical structures in the camps put them at risk for gender based violence, and make it harder for them to access resources like food for the family. Financial strain may force women and girls into survival sex or underaged marriages, many of which are not honored by the local husbands–putting girls’ futures at risk as well. Refugees often face sexual harassment from employers, distributors, and aid agencies.
The UNHCR’s summary of gender-related best practices serves as a pretty good point of inference for the problems women refugees face:
Women and girls comprise about half of any refugee, internally displaced or stateless population. UNHCR works to promote gender equality and ensure their equal access to protection and assistance. The integration of a gender perspective cuts across all sectors. For example, shelters should be safe for women and offer privacy, and assistance in construction or maintenance should be available. Food distribution systems should take family roles into account and ensure it reaches all. Sanitation facilities should be accessible and separated for men and women. Women should be able to collect water and fuel without risking rape or other abuse.
UNHCR also uses targeted actions to address specific protection needs. Programmes to increase girls’ enrolment and retention in school can overcome economic or cultural barriers to their education. Initiatives to increase women’s leadership and participation in decision-making help to identify and respond to their protection needs. The provision of sanitary materials improves health and increases freedom of movement. Livelihoods support can ensure women are not forced to engage in survival sex to provide for their families.
Refugees also need access to reproductive healthcare and physical and mental healthcare for survivors of sexual violence.
Essentially, the sexism people face generally in the world is exacerbated and amplified by the vulnerability and upheaval of displacement.
What can you do? Call the Congressional Switchboard to urge your representative and senators to increase the number of refugees the US accepts. Call (202) 224-3121 and they can put you in touch with any member of Congress. You may also want to contact elected officials who have taken a public stance in favor of welcoming refugees, to let them know you appreciate them.
What else can you do? You can donate to organizations that support women survivors of conflict. One of my favorites is Women for Women International.