News from the Week of March 4th

This week, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees shared the stories of  20 refugee women who came together to open and run a dairy cooperative in Ethiopia. On a good day, these women earn up to 540 Ethiopian Birr—the equivalent of $26 U.S. dollars. The women share the money in an effort to support one another, explaining that the goal of the business is to become self-reliant and care for their children. These women also hope to use their business to contribute to the refugee and Ethiopian community at large. One of the Somali women, Jamila Ali Hassan, explains, “it is in our culture that the women stick together. All women in the world should come together so they can thrive as one.”

As the #MeToo movement continues gaining momentum, it is important to recognize that the voices of refugee women remain largely unheard. Human rights lawyer Jayne E. Fleming, reminds us that displaced women all over the world continue to face unprecedented levels of sexual and gender-based violence. These women need protection. Fleming writes, “we need more than slogans and marches…We need to demand justice for refugees who are victims of gender-based violence and hold perpetrators accountable...We need funding to alleviate the suffering of refugee women trying to survive on their own...We need the community of nations to reopen their borders to refugees.”

Despite constant threats of violence, women are far from voiceless victims. They are strong agents of change who are fully capable of transforming conflict. This past Tuesday, CARE Bangladesh organized an exhibition depicting the resilience of refugee women. The photo exhibition showcased the different roles that women play, highlighting how refugee women have taken on a disproportionate amount of duty and burden during the Myanmar Refugee Crisis. “They are taking care of family, collecting food, providing shelter, collecting relief; and doing all of this with positivity despite the chaos all around,” Zia Choudhury, country director of CARE Bangladesh, said in his address to the event.

When Syrian refugee Bothina Matar arrived in the United States with her family, she quickly began working at Gaia Empowered Women, a Dallas-based fashion accessories company that employs refugee women as artisans. Her daily commute to Dallas was three-hours by bus. Determined to achieve self-suffiency, she established a savings account, studied to earn her driver’s license, and saved enough money to buy a car. Thanks to her hard work, her daily commute to work is now only one hour. Bothina’s latest goal is to earn a master’s degree in design or business. This mother, mentor, and inspiring woman has taken her position at the fashion company and run with it. Gaia’s founder, Paula, shares, “she's practically running the show now…helping to train, helping to do product development and design. She's here helping our company grow.”

Speaking at an International Women’s Day conference in The Hague, Chief of Staff of the Irish Defence Forces explained how higher numbers of women soldiers lead to better decisions. He noted that gender balance benefits all levels of military forces and helps maximize capabilities. Platoon commander Captain Carbery shared, “there are…many, many more girls and women who possess all the necessary attributes, traits, and skills—the untapped potential—to become professional military soldiers and peacekeepers—great leaders—leaders of women and men.”