International Women's Day: UNHCR pledges to advance gender equality programme

News Stories, 7 March 2014

© UNHCR/S.Rich
A young Pakistani orphan girl at a camp for the internally displaced. UNHCR chief Guterres says the education of girls like this one is vital to social progress.

GENEVA, March 7 (UNHCR) UNHCR chief António Guterres on Friday reaffirmed the refugee agency's determination to fulfil its global strategic priority of advancing gender equality and the empowerment of women. The pledge came in a message to staff on the eve of International Women's Day, which this year has the theme of "Equality for Women is Progress for All."

Guterres said this year's theme "recognizes that we do not live in a world in which all women and girls are treated equally and without discrimination. As we all too often see in our daily work, forced displacement exacerbates the risks that women and girls face."

The High Commissioner also highlighted some important UNHCR programmes that will impact positively on the situation for displaced women and girls.

"Recognising the critical importance of the role that youth and adolescents play in advancing positive change in communities, UNHCR is this year initiating several projects with youth groups to address protection issues in their communities and to develop their leadership and life skills. The Division of International Protection is working with several operations to support these groups through a Youth Empowerment Fund, and we will prioritize initiatives that particularly target adolescent girls," he said.

"We know that girls' education is vital to social progress. But it is still a struggle to keep girls in school, especially during the crucial transition from primary to secondary. UNHCR is using targeted strategies to increase the enrolment of girls in school, and we are beginning to see the results of our renewed efforts in this area," Guterres said, adding: "Without the education of girls, equality for women will remain an empty promise."

The High Commissioner also noted that UNHCR had taken significant steps to achieve institutional improvements in SGBV (sexual and gender-based violence) prevention and response from the onset of emergencies with the support of the US government's "Safe from the Start" initiative.

"Over the next three years, UNHCR hopes to address gaps in technical expertise in current emergencies, augment internal capacity in SGBV prevention and response, develop evidence-based impact assessment methodologies and implement livelihood programmes targeting women and girls at risk of SGBV and SGBV survivors," he said.

Meanwhile, UNHCR staff and offices around the world will be marking and celebrating International Women's Day, one of the most important dates in the year for the organization.




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.

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

Statelessness and Women

Statelessness can arise when citizenship laws do not treat men and women equally. Statelessness bars people from rights that most people take for granted such as getting a job, buying a house, travelling, opening a bank account, getting an education, accessing health care. It can even lead to detention.

In some countries, nationality laws do not allow mothers to confer nationality to their children on an equal basis as fathers and this creates the risk that these children will be left stateless. In others, women cannot acquire, change or retain their nationality on an equal basis as men. More than 40 countries still discriminate against women with respect to these elements.

Fortunately, there is a growing trend for states to remedy gender discrimination in their nationality laws, as a result of developments in international human rights law and helped by vigorous advocacy from women's rights groups. The women and children depicted here have faced problems over nationality.

Statelessness and Women

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