#CSW67 looks at protecting the rights of migrant, refugee and asylum-seeking women and girls

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

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Levi Meir Clancy via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — As if they didn’t have enough important and informative events to take in, Presbyterians attending the 67th session of the Commission on the Status of Women at UN headquarters in New York and online also have side events available to them.

One offered Tuesday by the government of Iceland and the Council of Europe, a human rights organization, 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.

Katrín Jakobsdóttir is Iceland’s prime minister.

Jakobsdóttir called the topic “a very pressing issue and a serious concern,” citing statistics to show why that’s true: according to the UN 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

Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya, the Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations and the president of UN-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 Liljer​t 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 as well — have all 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 Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, 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.” In Romania, for example, which has accepted more than 1.6 million Ukrainians, “the system is overstretched.”

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 UN 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.”

Alyssa Ahrabare

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.”

It’s not possible to “fight for empowerment without fighting violence against women and girls, which disproportionately impacts migrant women and girls,” especially in the area of human trafficking, “one of the fastest-growing criminal networks,” Ahrabare said. While digital spaces can be dangerous for refugee women and girls, they can also be tools for helpful practices. For Ukrainian refugees, the European Network of Migrant Women created a digital guide with “red flags to explain and raise awareness of the situation,” Ahrabare said. After the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the organization helped evacuate 125 women and their families through a social media network it created.

Ahrabare offered this bit of advice: “Make sure migrant women don’t fall through the cracks of policy-making,” adding: “We need to proactively reach out to them.”

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

  • Subscribe to the PC(USA) News

  • Interested in receiving either of the PC(USA) newsletters in your inbox?