International Women's Day: UNHCR seeks greater access to education for women

News Stories, 8 March 2011

© UNHCR/F.Courbet
UNHCR places great importance on ensuring that refugee women and girls, like this young Somali, get access to education.

GENEVA, March 8 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres marked the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day with a call for greater access to education and training for forcibly displaced women and girls around the world.

"We need to work harder to redress impediments to access to primary and, in protracted refugees situations particularly, secondary education. These include the lack of required identity or status documents and the means to pay for school uniforms, meals and transport," Guterres said in a message Tuesday to all UNHCR staff.

"Today, only 43 per cent of girls in the developing world attend secondary school, despite the multiple benefits attendance bestows, such as delaying the age at which women first give birth, enhancing maternal health, and strengthening women's bargaining power within households, which translates into greater economic and political participation," added the High Commissioner, who is in Tunisia assessing the situation for thousands of people who have fled Libya.

This year's UN-selected theme is "Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women." Guterres said it gave an opportunity to look at ways in which the refugee agency and its staff can improve educational opportunities for women and girls of concern to UNHCR.

"Just as we are using the commemoration of the anniversaries of the refugee and statelessness conventions to help forge a new protection dynamic, let us use the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day to make the millennium development goal of gender parity in primary and secondary education a reality," Guterres said.

This year, the 60-year-old UNHCR is marking the anniversaries of the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. As part of the commemorations, UNHCR has been holding a series of regional dialogues on women and girls in cooperation with the Centre for Refugee Research in Sydney, Australia.

The dialogues will provide a platform for some 500 forcibly displaced women and girls to come together with UNHCR staff, implementing partners, government officials, community-based organizations and male refugees to discuss the main protection problems they face and to recommend possible solutions.

The first gathering was held in November in the Indian capital, New Delhi, and was followed by meetings in Colombia and Jordan. A dialogue is now under way in Uganda and will be followed by gatherings over the next three months in Zambia, Thailand and Finland.The outcomes will feed into other events during the year, particularly a ministerial-level meeting for December 7-8 in Geneva.

Guterres said in his message that the "Regional Dialogues have confirmed the importance refugee and displaced women and girls place on being able to attend local schools in urban environments." The meetings cover 10 core areas of protection: sexual and gender-based violence, education, health, shelter, economic self-reliance, individual documentation, leadership, sanitary materials, legal remedies and general violence.

International Women's Day is being celebrated by UNHCR staff in offices around the world. At the organization's headquarters in Geneva, an exhibition of storyboards created during the dialogues in India, Colombia and Jordan portrays the protection problems refugee women and girls face, together with the solutions proposed by the participants.

The first International Women's Day was marked on March 19, 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.





Education is vital in restoring hope and dignity to young people driven from their homes.

DAFI Scholarships

The German-funded Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative provides scholarships for refugees to study in higher education institutes in many countries.

How UNHCR Helps Women

By ensuring participation in decision-making and strengthening their self-reliance.

UNHCR's Dialogues with Refugee Women

Progress report on implementation of recommendations.


Women and girls can be especially vulnerable to abuse in mass displacement situations.


Advocacy is a key element in UNHCR activities to protect people of concern.

Women in Exile

In any displaced population, approximately 50 percent of the uprooted people are women and girls. Stripped of the protection of their homes, their government and sometimes their family structure, females are particularly vulnerable. They face the rigours of long journeys into exile, official harassment or indifference and frequent sexual abuse, even after reaching an apparent place of safety. Women must cope with these threats while being nurse, teacher, breadwinner and physical protector of their families. In the last few years, UNHCR has developed a series of special programmes to ensure women have equal access to protection, basic goods and services as they attempt to rebuild their lives.

On International Women's Day UNHCR highlights, through images from around the world, the difficulties faced by displaced women, along with their strength and resilience.

Women in Exile

Refugee Women

Women and girls make up about 50 percent of the world's refugee population, and they are clearly the most vulnerable. At the same time, it is the women who carry out the crucial tasks in refugee camps – caring for their children, participating in self-development projects, and keeping their uprooted families together.

To honour them and to draw attention to their plight, the High Commissioner for Refugees decided to dedicate World Refugee Day on June 20, 2002, to women refugees.

The photographs in this gallery show some of the many roles uprooted women play around the world. They vividly portray a wide range of emotions, from the determination of Macedonian mothers taking their children home from Kosovo and the hope of Sierra Leonean girls in a Guinean camp, to the tears of joy from two reunited sisters. Most importantly, they bring to life the tremendous human dignity and courage of women refugees even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Refugee Women

Chad: Education in Exile

UNHCR joins forces with the Ministry of Education and NGO partners to improve education for Sudanese refugees in Chad.

The ongoing violence in Sudan's western Darfur region has uprooted two million Sudanese inside the country and driven some 230,000 more over the border into 12 refugee camps in eastern Chad.

Although enrolment in the camp schools in Chad is high, attendance is inconsistent. A shortage of qualified teachers and lack of school supplies and furniture make it difficult to keep schools running. In addition, many children are overwhelmed by household chores, while others leave school to work for local Chadian families. Girls' attendance is less regular, especially after marriage, which usually occurs by the age of 12 or 13. For boys and young men, attending school decreases the possibility of recruitment by various armed groups operating in the area.

UNHCR and its partners continue to provide training and salaries for teachers in all 12 refugee camps, ensuring a quality education for refugee children. NGO partners maintain schools and supply uniforms to needy students. And UNICEF is providing books, note pads and stationary. In August 2007 UNHCR, UNICEF and Chad's Ministry of Education joined forces to access and improve the state of education for Sudanese uprooted by conflict in Darfur.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Chad: Education in Exile