Presbyterians and others attending the Commission on the Status of Women hear from a prime minister and others concerned about 100 million forcibly displaced people
April 29, 2023
A side event at this year’s Commission on the Status of Women at U.N. headquarters in New York was offered by the government of Iceland and the Council of Europe, a human rights organization. The event highlighted the importance of protecting the rights of migrant, refugee and asylum-seeking women and girls. Marja Routanen from the Council of Europe hosted the panel, introducing the prime minister of Iceland, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, who’s led the country since 2017.
Jakobsdóttir called the topic “a very pressing issue and a serious concern,” citing statistics to show why that’s true: According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, 100 million people were forcibly displaced last year, and women and girls comprise 90% of the refugee total. “We need a deeper understanding of who these women are,” Jakobsdóttir said. “Being a female prime minister, I hear gender equality is a soft issue. Nothing is harder than the reality women face with gender-based issues.”
“Above all,” the prime minister said, “we must prevent armed conflict” and eradicate poverty. “Gender equality is a priority of my government in Iceland. … We need to put it out in the open in order to deal with it. We are witnessing a rollback in hard-earned rights throughout the world. We need to push back the pushback.”
Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya, the Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations and the president of U.N. Women, said the Russian invasion of his country resulted in “at least” 8 million refugees and another 1.3 million internally displaced people. Up to 90% are women, girls or elderly, he said. The ambassador traced some of the digital platforms that are providing refugees with such help as legal advice and job training. Digital solutions and public-private partnerships “can leverage empowerment,” Kyslytsya said.
Pär Liljert of Sweden, director of the International Organization for Migrants Office to the United Nations in New York, noted the effects of Covid, climate change and environmental degradation — and armed conflict — have had a “disproportionate effect” on women and girls.
“We repeatedly ask ourselves, ‘How can we strengthen our engagement and efforts?’” Liljert said. “Our answer is, we need to go and look at the local level, to go back to the field and listen to the voices of people in crisis-affected areas. We must first value the local knowledge of women in developing solutions and empowering them to safeguard themselves and their families.” Their knowledge “is often overlooked,” Liljert said.
Leyla Kayacik, the special representative of the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, has been traveling to countries including Moldova and Romania to “concentrate on vulnerable people and raise awareness,” including the resources offered by the Council of Europe. “It’s important to put all our forces together,” Kayacik said, including those provided by the UNHCR and UNICEF.
“All these women and children, all the elderly who are suffering a lot — there is a need for psychological support,” Kayacik said. “A lot is being done, but more should be done.”
Kayacik believes that “particular attention should be given to the conflict-related victims of sexual violence. There is a need for safe spaces where victims can speak freely or choose not to speak” without being revictimized. And “special attention” must be given to unaccompanied children, Kayacik said.
Dr. Jemimah Njuki, Chief of Economic Empowerment at U.N. Women, said that over the past 60 years, the share of international migrants who are women hasn’t changed much. They’re about half of “people on the move,” Njuki said, “and their economic realities have not changed much either.” Employment restrictions in destination countries can limit their job prospects, and gender norms can reduce their access to “decent work, training and support,” Njuki said.
But when migrant women have “access to decent work opportunities, discrimination is significantly reduced,” Njuki said. “We know there’s a digital gender gap. We need to make sure technology is in reach for marginalized populations, where it’s really needed.”
The final panelist to speak, Alyssa Ahrabare, legal and advocacy lead for the European Network of Migrant Women, was asked how civil society helps empower migrant and refugee women and girls. “One way is through integration,” Ahrabare said. “We welcome digital literacy … including access to training.”
Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service
Today’s Focus: Commission on the Status of Women #CSW67
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