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Progress Report on Refugee Women and UNHCR's Framework for Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action

Executive Committee Meetings

Progress Report on Refugee Women and UNHCR's Framework for Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action

15 August 1997



1. The Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) calls for the integration of gender perspectives in all policies and programmes including that of the United Nations system. It calls upon the United Nations organization to play a key role in the follow-up to assure active and visible implementation of the BPFA objectives and goals in the following areas:

  • action to protect and promote the human rights of women and the girl child as an integral part of universal human rights;
  • action to eradicate the persistent and increasing burden of poverty on women;
  • action to remove the obstacles to women's full participation in public life and decision-making, at all levels, including the family;
  • action to eliminate all forms of violence against women;
  • action to ensure equal access for girl children and women to education and health services;
  • action to promote economic autonomy for women, and ensure their access to productive resources; and
  • action to encourage an equitable sharing of family responsibilities.

2. The strategies under the BPFA are premised on the fact that women's empowerment and their full participation on the basis of equality in all spheres of society, including participation in the decision-making process and access to power, are fundamental to the achievement of equality, development and peace. This premise applies equally to refugee women.

3. In this context, it is essential to design, implement and monitor, with the full participation of women, effective, efficient and mutually reinforcing gender-sensitive policies and programmes. These should aim at eliminating all forms of discrimination against women and girls and remove all obstacles to gender equality at all levels, so that they will foster the empowerment and advancement of women.

4. The UNHCR Policy on Refugee Women is based on the principle of mainstreaming or integration of refugee women's issues and concerns into all of the policies and guidelines of the Organization. It seeks to create an organizational culture that will take into account the distinct needs, concerns and resources of refugee women as an essential element in the needs assessment and planning of protection and programme policies and their implementation. Through this approach, it ensures that gender perspectives are integrated into programme planning and implementation.

5. UNHCR has endeavoured to integrate, as much as has been feasible, all the relevant strategic objectives of the BPFA, in the design and delivery of multi-sectoral programmes in the areas of protection and assistance. Special emphasis has been placed on issues such as sexual violence, mainstreaming of a gender perspective, participation of refugee women in the decision- making structures, mainstreaming of refugee women in peace-building and conflict resolution efforts, integration of refugee women in post-conflict economic revitalization efforts, self-reliance, food management and distribution, reproductive-health, education, environment conservation and the situation of the girl child. Of particular relevance to UNHCR, under the BPFA, are the three broad strategies of :

  • Human Rights and Empowerment of Refugee Women (Section "I" BPFA)
  • Women and Armed Conflict (Section "E" BPFA)
  • Violence Against Women (Section "D" BPFA)

6. This note reviews the steps taken to follow up on the objectives and strategies of the BPFA and outlines future directions for the realization of the goals of the BPFA. It also serves, albeit in a limited fashion, as a progress report on some of the efforts and actions taken by UNHCR to implement its policy and guidelines on refugee women.


7. Refugee women and girls are persistently and increasingly subject to physical, sexual and psychological violence. This violence, which constitutes a gross violation of human rights, includes hostage-taking, rape, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy, murder, infliction of HIV/AIDS and domestic violence. Whilst in flight, refugee women are often subject to sexual abuse and harassment by border security guards, customs and immigration officials, bandits and others. Refugee women in some camps are subject to sexual violence when they venture out to collect firewood or go to the water and sanitation facilities located at the edge of the site. Women are also exposed to sexual harassment in the camps by security guards, police, other male refugees and local residents.

8. The reported incidents of violence, especially sexual violence against refugee women, have given rise to a heightened awareness of the need to take special protection measures for the physical and psycho-social support of refugee women. Related protection activities have included the training of police and immigration officers on refugee rights and particularly refugee women's rights to protection from violence and sexual abuse. The People-Oriented Planning training of UNHCR staff members, non-governmental organization (NGO) and Government officers has included a component on prevention and responses to sexual violence. Rights awareness training has been carried out in several camps in Nepal, Guatemala, Mexico and Kenya for refugee women in order to inform them of their right to protection from domestic, sexual and other forms of violence. Community based, culturally appropriate psycho-social support for refugee women has been designed and put in place in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rwanda, Kenya and the United Republic of Tanzania. Reproductive health care, albeit inadequate, has been made available in several refugee locations. Gynaecological care remains inadequate in most refugee situations where sexually transmitted diseases (STD) and other gynaecological disorders are prevalent.

9. In 1993, a special pilot project called the Kenya "Women Victims of Violence Project" was launched in the Dadaab camps of Kenya, where Somali refugees were subject to sexual violence. The programme incorporated a range of preventive measures, which have been extensively described in previous conference room papers1 and are summarized in the attached Annex. Although the measures reduced the incidents of sexual violence, sexual aggressions still occur in Dadaab when women leave the camp to collect firewood. Much more needs to be done in designing refugee camps that are safe for refugee women.

10. Violence against refugee women is often exacerbated by social and cultural taboos, notably the social stigma or shame of denouncing domestic or sexual violence. This often results in under-reporting of rape and other forms of sexual assault and a reluctance to seek medical and legal assistance. Bringing about attitudinal and behavioural changes are probably the most challenging of tasks. Some limited progress has been made in the Dadaab camps of Kenya, under the "Kenya Women Victims of Violence" project. The successful UNHCR and NGO collaborative attempt to bring about a positive change in the approach and attitude of the conservative Somali community to women survivors of rape is remarkable. The findings of this pilot project need to be replicated elsewhere, in other refugee situations, where sexual violence is a problem.


11. Women not only face persecution on grounds of race, language, ethnicity, culture, religion, disability, socio-economic class, they also face persecution on grounds of gender, which creates additional barriers to women's enjoyment of their human rights. Gender-based persecution manifests itself in many ways: in the form of sexual violence; harsh or inhuman treatment as a result of transgression of social mores for which the social sanction is death; traditional harmful practices such as female genital mutilation; coercive population management policies; and domestic violence for which there is no community or legal state protection. In February 1996, UNHCR held a Symposium on Gender-Based Persecution with selected Governments from Europe, North America and Australia. Several countries such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States of America have developed guidelines for the processing of claims for asylum on grounds of gender-based persecution.

12. At present, the issues of cultural relativism and harmful traditional practices are being addressed in programmes in a number of countries. Community awareness campaigns on the harmful effects of early childhood marriages and female genital mutilation are being emphasized. The highly sensitive nature of these issues has meant that much of the emphasis has been on the harmful health consequences. In Ethiopia, support has been given to the National Committee on Traditional Practices of Ethiopia, in coordination with the Inter-African Committee, for activities with Somali refugees. The project aims to promote beneficial traditional practices such as breast feeding and the eradication of harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation, food taboos, skin cutting practices and early marriages. The project focuses on the education of religious leaders, teachers, health workers, traditional birth attendants and refugee women themselves. In the Kenya camps, UNHCR, together with the World Food Programme (WFP), is actively promoting girls' education so that early marriages might be discouraged. The UNHCR manual on Rights Awareness Training for refugee women includes discussion of all the above gender-related issues. Rights awareness training is being carried out in several camps.

13. In situations where refugee women, who are agriculturists or farmers, are widowed or become female heads of households, their right to land and access to productive resources, such as land and credit, becomes critical. This is particularly relevant in a return situation. In Rwanda, the protection of the right of returnee women to access to land and credit has been facilitated, by UNHCR, working with the Ministry for Gender, Family and Social Affairs of Rwanda, to amend the laws that discriminate against women's inheritance of land. In Guatemala, negotiation with the Government is undertaken to ensure that the returnee women, especially those who are female heads of households and farmers, have access to land. This ensures self reliance and the right of survival of these women and their families. These forms of protection of refugee women's rights need to be mainstreamed into all of UNHCR country activities where appropriate, so that they become the norm in terms of protection of refugee women's land and property rights.


14. If women are to have an equal part in securing and maintaining peace, they must be represented adequately at all levels of decision-making and conflict resolution. At times of armed conflict and the collapse of communities, the role of women is recognized to be crucial in the preservation of social order. Women make an important but unrecognized contribution as peace educators both within their families and in their societies. It is essential to build on this predisposition to foster a culture of peace that upholds justice, the rule of law, tolerance and understanding.

15. Efforts are underway to promote peace education programmes and training in non-violent forms of conflict resolution in several refugee locations. The programmes in Guinea, Kyrgyzstan, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Rwanda can be cited as examples. Pilot projects in training for non-violent means of conflict resolution are being encouraged under the General Initiative Fund for Refugee Women in Liberia, Sri Lanka and Uganda.

16. Inter-agency collaborative support (involving UNIFEM, UNICEF, UNFPA, UNESCO) is being extended to women's NGOs (that include displaced and refugee women) working for peace, in countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Somalia, the Sudan and Uganda. An inter-agency workshop is scheduled to be held in November 1997 for the purposes of documenting some of the best practices of women in peace-building activities. Once documented, these activities will be promoted to refugee women in other locations.

17. Refugee women and children are particularly affected by the indiscriminate use of anti-personnel landmines. Efforts are also underway to mainstream mine-awareness education for refugee women and girls in appropriate locations. Such initiatives have been relatively successful in Afghanistan and Cambodia; efforts in both places, however, have been temporarily interrupted.

18. Special initiatives, such as the Bosnian Women's Initiative and the Rwanda Women's Initiatives, are focusing on peace-building and reconciliation activities through economic empowerment and micro-enterprise development projects for women. Under both these special initiatives, women's NGOs are encouraged to develop independent radio programmes for illiterate women on peace-building and reconciliation. These radio programmes are now operating in Sarajevo, Mostar and Rwanda. In Rwanda, radio clubs for women are being set up in the rural communes to broadcast such programmes and to empower women through access to information. They also aim to counter the "hate propaganda" that served to incite the ethnic tensions and collective violence.


19. Women's equal participation in decision-making is not only a fundamental human rights principle of equality and non-discrimination. It is also a necessary prerequisite for the meaningful integration of women's interests and concerns, including ensuring equal access to all protection and programme services.

20. An active effort has been made in most country programmes to take measures to ensure refugee women's equal access to and full participation in the refugee camp management committees, food management and distribution committees and other related committees. The results have been mixed. In some camps, the participation of refugee women in leadership structures and management committees has been good. In many camps, gender resistance and cultural barriers are cited as reasons for the non-participation of women in decision-making and leadership structures. Efforts are being encouraged to bring about an attitudinal change, not only among the refugees, but also among staff members who are sometimes reluctant to pursue measures to promote the participation of refugee women in the leadership structures.

21. In 1996, a major promotion of activities to encourage the participation of refugee women in the food management and distribution process was carried out. The exercise commenced with a general survey of 41 countries. Each country programme was requested to take measures to ensure that refugee women were encouraged to participate in the food management committees and distribution process, including the monitoring of the distribution. This activity also served to ensure that women and children were the ultimate beneficiaries of the food. Several joint UNHCR and WFP workshops and monitoring missions on food management and distribution were held. Joint guidelines on the mainstreaming of gender perspectives were issued to programmes in Liberia and Uganda. In Kenya, UNHCR and WFP will undertake a joint evaluation project to assess the impact of women's participation in food distribution. There are a number of complications regarding women's involvement in food distribution. Staff members are urged to think creatively to overcome obstacles in order to ensure that refugee women are given equal access to the power structures and to overcome possible barriers to women's participation in camp management.

22. Several country programmes have special projects that promote the training of refugee women in leadership and management skills (for example, in Nepal, the United Republic of Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Mexico).


23. The mainstreaming of gender perspectives requires an analysis of the differential impact of the project on men and women before the project is designed. The methodology for conducting gender analysis in policies and programmes was designed and incorporated in the People-Oriented Planning. At the end of 1996, a total of 2,368 persons had been trained in the use of the People-Oriented Planning for needs assessment and gender-sensitive planning. The total figure can be broken down to 946 UNHCR staff, 1,422 implementing partners, composed of NGOs and government officials. In the interest of institutionalizing the process of this training, a total of 94 staff have been trained as trainers in People-Oriented Planning.

24. In spite of the extensive training, the mainstreaming of gender perspectives in UNHCR programmes remains low. The 1993 evaluation of the implementation of the Policy on Refugee Women and Guidelines on the Protection of Refugee Women was not encouraging in this regard. Four years later, while the situation has improved, there remains a great deal to be done to ensure that the policy and guidelines are being implemented satisfactorily at the field level. Whilst impressive guidelines such as Sexual Violence against Refugees: Strategies for Prevention and Response, Reproductive Health of Refugees, and Mental Health of Refugees have been produced, these are not being adequately used on a system-wide basis and implemented at the field level. Until the accountability of managers for the implementation of the policy and guidelines is better established, progress will be piecemeal and unsatisfactory.


In the coming year, efforts will be focused on the following areas:

Building a Gender-Sensitive Corporate Culture

25. There remains a significant distance between policy and practice. The process of building a corporate culture that is gender-sensitive, through attitudinal and behavioural change, appears, at times, to be an inordinately slow process. An exception is in the Americas region, where the importance of gender in addressing refugee women's issues has been recognized. The International Conference on Refugees in Central America (CIREFCA) and the Regional Forum on Refugee and Displaced Women in Central America (FOREFEM) processes have assisted to a great extent, in this regard, in Latin America. Similar activities will be encouraged in other regions to foster a gender-sensitive culture.

26. Greater awareness and sensitivity may be achieved through exposure to and training on gender issues. The People-Oriented Training has introduced the functional concept of gender analysis into needs assessment and programme planning for operational procedures. Gender analysis is the mechanism for the purposes of mainstreaming gender concerns. However, it does not overcome underlying gender resistance. For this reason, UNHCR will begin to institute gender awareness and gender sensitivity training of all staff members through the Division of Human Resources Management (DHRM). Such thinking will help overcome obstacles to the successful mainstreaming of gender perspectives and implementation of the policy and guidelines for refugee women.

Focused Mainstreaming

27. Efforts will be more concentrated in specific areas for intensified mainstreaming of gender-related activities on behalf of refugee women. Areas such as environmental management and conservation, peace-building and non-violent means of conflict-resolution and empowerment of refugee women through access to information will be targeted for priority action. Equal access and the participation of refugee women in power structures and decision-making will continue to receive attention.

Gender-Sensitive Activities for Refugee Men

28. Research has indicated that a contributory factor to sexual and domestic violence in and around the refugee camps involves male refugees who are idle, having lost their primary and traditional roles in society. In some cases, alcoholism and violence on the part of the male refugees has been attributed to the loss of purpose. Innovative programme designs will be considered to engage male refugees in meaningful activities in and around the camp. Experiments are being carried out to seriously engage refugee men in child care and children's education. In the Dadaab camps, men from the Sudanese and Ethiopian communities are organized to collect firewood and sometimes to escort the women who also venture out of the camp for that task.

Rights-Based Approach to Programming for Refugee Women.

29. The preparatory process to the BPFA clearly acknowledged that women's rights are human rights and proposed an approach towards addressing women's and gender issues as rights issues. Every refugee woman must have an equal opportunity to access and benefit from all protection and assistance services extended by UNHCR. The rights-based approach would be in keeping with the international standards and norms promoted by the United Nations. To date, many refugee women's issues have been addressed on a needs-based approach and viewed as issues that are women-specific. A rights-based approach, particularly in relation to gender, would ensure equal access, treatment and attention to all refugee women, as well as men and children. UNHCR will adopt this rights-based approach. This will greatly enhance the efforts to mainstream gender perspectives in all protection and assistance programmes of UNHCR.


30. Much is being done in the field, at the regional level and at Headquarters to address the specific needs and concerns of refugee women. These efforts have been facilitated by the appointment of five Senior Regional Advisors for Refugee Women. However, more needs to be done in terms of mainstreaming gender perspectives in the protection and assistance programmes of UNHCR. Whilst the concept of gender analysis has been introduced through the People-Oriented Planning training, more effort is needed to mainstream gender concerns and to monitor and evaluate the progress in needs assessment and programme design. The proposed changes to the Career Management System to include gender competencies in the managerial and functional competency requirements will assist in this regard. In addition, gender awareness training for all UNHCR staff members through the DHRM will reinforce these efforts.


(A non-exhaustive list of the programmes and actions being implemented in various countries from 1996 to 1997)


A. Americas

1. At the regional level, protection procedures are being reviewed in detail in order to guarantee individual and equal access to refugee women to eligibility interviewing procedures, regardless of who initially presents the request.

2. This review is intended to help to ensure that all potential female applicants are interviewed and their cases fully considered. Improved interviewing procedures will provide an opportunity to detect and address cases of sexual violence and/or other traumatic experiences requiring special attention. The demand for increased translation services in interviewing women refugees is a major concern. The majority of urban refugee women, who are survivors of violence requiring medical follow-up are provided with medical assistance and psychological counselling. Services to refugee women and their dependants are expected to improve as women's needs are more clearly identified and appropriate response measures taken to address them.


3. UNHCR is to provide direct support to a shelter for victims of sexual violence and for ten workshops on domestic violence and sexual abuse. These projects, which promote the active participation of refugee women, form a part of a national strategy aimed at reducing violence against women.

Chiapas (Mexico)

4. UNHCR continues to support a project which seeks to involve the community directly in the provision of adequate protection services to its members, particularly women, exposed to violence. Follow-up psychosocial, medical and legal support is provided as and when needed. A capacity- building programme has been implemented for local judicial and municipal authorities, as well as refugee male and female representatives in order to raise their awareness on how to respond to violence and other protection cases. This project is also expected to benefit local Mexican women who face similar difficulties.

Campeche (Mexico)

5. Training programmes for refugee women have focused on domestic violence issues, including discussion of the prevention of such violence and strategies for response.


6. An agreement has been signed with a local NGO to provide psychosocial follow-up to refugee women survivors of violence. In order to strengthen the NGO capacity, training on sexual violence issues is being provided to the NGO staff.

B. Africa


7. The Women Victims of Violence Project that began in 1993 in the Dadaab camps of Kenya has since 1995 been mainstreamed into the country-wide programme. This project has served as a model project for the purposes of preventing and responding appropriately to sexual violence against refugees. Refugee women were frequently subjected to sexual violence when they went out of the camp sites, frequently raided by bandits, to collect firewood. The project took steps to protect the camps by planting thorn bushes around the sites thus significantly reducing the number of rapes. UNHCR also negotiated for the local police to be stationed within the camp sites, built houses for the police and trained them in refugee law and rights of refugee women to protection. Part of the training consisted of the investigation and prosecution of rape cases. UNHCR engaged Kenyan women lawyers to train the police on the addressing gender-related issues. The police also agreed to escort some of the groups going out to collect firewood. A massive advocacy campaign was launched to sensitize the women and men in the camps to the problem of violence against women refugees. Anti-rape committees were set up, in 1996, consisting of both men and women elders of the different ethnic communities. They now work towards sensitizing the communities that rape is a crime and that the woman is not to blame. They also assist any rape victim to seek medical and legal assistance. Psychosocial and community support has also been mobilized for the women survivors of sexual violence.


8. Under the General Initiative Fund (GIF) a video on "Positive action towards the eradication of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)" in and around the Somali refugee camps in Ethiopia, is presently being developed. The video will depict an alternative ceremony that could replace the harmful infibulation practice. It will become a major element in the advocacy against female genital mutilation both in Somali society in other societies practising FGM. The video will be translated in English and Somali, and 100 superior quality PAL/VHS copies will be produced for general use.

9. The General Initiative Fund supported a community centre which will be used to hold refugee women's committee meetings and to organize skills training for refugee women including legal and literacy training. A network for psychosocial support has been established for women who have undergone traumatic experiences such as sexual violence.


10. The Rwanda Women's Initiative (RWI) under the reproductive health programme assists women survivors of violence, sexual violence and genocide in psychosocial counselling. A sub-agreement has been signed on 27 March 1997, for 15 quick impact projects (QIPs) implemented by member associations of the umbrella organization for women, Profemmes Twese Hamwe, in order to assist the capacity-building of local women's organizations and returnee women's groups. One of the QIPs consists of psychosocial counselling to a group of widows in Kigali.


11. Workshops on customary laws, violence against women and incest were held under the auspices of the regional organization Women In Law And Development (WILDAF).


12. In Natende a survey is being conducted to collect information on women who suffered from sexual violence in order to identify the appropriate responses and action required.

C. Eastern Europe


13. An Association of internally displaced women from Abkhazia, Georgia, is carrying out psychosocial rehabilitation of women and children who are victims of violence in the armed conflict of Georgia. This project is supported under the General Initiative Fund for refugee women. The association of internally displaced women will initiate and support the creation of women's self-help groups in collective centres. Three part-time consultants, a gynaecologist, a paediatrician and a dentist will provide special medical care for needy women and children living in the collective centres.


14. The UNHCR Branch Office in Ankara has been progressive in processing cases of gender persecution by recognizing as refugees women who transgress the social mores of the society in which they live. Some of the categories of women recognized are those who advocate women's liberation, divorced women denied child custody and women who refuse to marry a designated husband. Currently, the UNHCR Branch Office in Ankara is working on integrating questions about violence against women within their societies and families into the normal legal interviewing procedure not only for women as principal applicants but also for women as spouses of men seeking asylum.


15. One of the main programme developments for refugee women in 1996 and 1997 has been the mainstreaming of refugee women and gender perspectives in peace-building activities through the education for peace and tolerance and conflict-resolution training projects. All the special initiatives such as the Bosnian Women's Initiative (BWI) and the Rwandan Women's Initiative (RWI) and the General Initiative Fund encourage activities and mechanisms for the peaceful resolution of conflicts, training for mediation and negotiation and peace education with a gender perspective.

A. Americas


16. In April 1997, UNHCR participated in a two week fact finding mission to Colombia as part of the Permanent Consultative Group on Internally Displaced Persons, in order to provide technical expertise on protection issues and to ensure a gender perspective in the Group's final report. A series of proposals were made with regard to the need to ensure the official recognition of the civilian nature of the internally displaced population, which is largely comprised of women and children. The proposals include adequate protection for internally displaced women, as well as a number of technical recommendations regarding the provision of assistance. The direct involvement of the internally displaced women in the decision-making process with regard to their future and the urgent need to involve them in the pursuit of and negotiations for peace are among the main recommendations.


17. In the follow-up to the signing of the peace agreements, negotiations are underway to reach cooperation agreements between returnee women's organizations, NGOs, the National Office for Women and UNHCR in order to provide training to women on leadership, peace agreements, domestic violence and community participation. Dissemination of information regarding the peace agreements and how they affect indigenous women in particular has been a major activity in Guatemala. Recently, two workshops were also held with returnee women to strengthen their capacity to deal with conflict situations and to discuss alternative development, democracy and peace from the perspective of full citizenship for indigenous women.


18. In September 1996, a consultation was carried out with a small group of internally displaced women in a conflict area in Nicaragua in order to understand their situation. As a follow-up to this, in February 1997 training was provided to the refugee women on their rights, in order to strengthen their capacity to deal with conflict situations and to discuss alternative development, democracy and peace.

B. Africa

19. Women's peace movements and NGOs in Liberia, Somalia, Mali, Sierra Leone and Uganda are being supported by UNHCR in their peace-building activities. Their best practices in community-based activities for peace-building and conflict resolution will be documented so as to promote these activities in other areas.


20. The Rwandan Women's Initiative supports a project whereby a local women's NGO assists in the setting up of radio clubs in the communes for illiterate women. The radio club will broadcast programmes on reconciliation and non-violent means of conflict-resolution.


21. A project on conflict-resolution and peace education for refugee women, implemented in April 1997 in the Arua and Moyo districts of northern Uganda, was supported by the General Initiative Fund for refugee women. Under the project, training workshops were held to provide education, skills training and support for refugee women to enable them to participate more effectively in decision-making and community leadership. The workshops served to raise awareness on reconciliation and conflict-resolution, which will enable better local integration, particularly in the area of conflict-resolution. Two workshops were conducted in the field by a local NGO (CECORE).

C. Europe


22. The Bosnia Women's Initiative seeks to promote inter-ethnic tolerance and harmony through radio programmes developed and broadcast by women's NGOs in Sarajevo and Mostar. The programmes aim to promote reconciliation and non-violent means of conflict-resolution.


A. Americas

23. In order to ensure greater protection of refugee women's rights, efforts are being made, within the regional policy for the harmonization of refugee law, to present draft legislation with a gender perspective to the government bodies responsible for studying these proposals, for the Caribbean, Panama and Guatemala. The Canadian Branch Office is now seeking local technical guidance on how to review proposed legislation and policies from a gender perspective, in addition to conducting a study of the current situation of refugee women in Canada.

24. In Mexico and Guatemala ongoing programmes with NGOs train women and men on human rights, with an emphasis on implications from a gender perspective. Panama provides training on local family law to refugee men and women. Other countries, such as Costa Rica, are currently incorporating these activities into their 1997 programmes as there was no prior systematic activity to train urban refugee women and men in these areas.

Regional Office in Argentina

25. In order to raise awareness on these issues among government and NGO partners, the regional office in Argentina conducted a seminar on "Gender in UNHCR's Protection Mandate". The regional office has also concluded a two year agreement with the International Studies Institute, the University of Chile and the Pontificate Catholic University of Peru to incorporate gender issues into refugee law courses.

Regional Office in Mexico

26. The UNHCR Regional Office in Mexico has recently arranged a joint training course with the National Human Rights Commission, the government migration office and COMAR for some 3,000 Mexican migration officers on refugees rights and gender perspectives in order to promote awareness on the protection problems faced by refugee and migrant women and to disseminate information on their basic rights. Santo Domingo provides training on refugee-related matters and laws with a special focus on gender issues.


27. Belize is supporting the translation of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women so that it is accessible to Central American refugee and immigrant women.

El Salvador

28. In El Salvador a human rights training manual is being re-edited in order to highlight discrimination and violence against women and show that these are human rights violations.

Mexico and Guatemala

29. At a rural level, serious efforts are being made to build on progress to-date in order to move from refugee women's awareness of their rights to ensuring the mechanisms for exercising them. UNHCR's offices in Chiapas and in Guatemala are conducting workshops and reviewing administrative and legal procedures in order to secure opportunities for returnee and other women to exercise their right to be full cooperative members, with the right to speak and to vote in land cooperatives in Guatemala, regardless of their civil status. Faced with legal and administrative obstacles, Guatemalan indigenous refugee and returnee women's organizations are mobilizing to defend their rights.

30. UNHCR-sponsored NGOs in Chiapas, Mexico, continue to provide female-to-female health services, as well as training on the key role women's health plays in family and community well-being. They have promoted direct participation by refugee midwives and female health advocates. Sexual and domestic violence are problems which frequently come to light as a result of this approach. Training has been provided to NGOs on the subject. In Guatemala, an agreement was recently signed with UNFPA to provide reproductive health services to returnee adolescents.

31. The empowerment of refugee women is another important area in the field of women's rights and the UNHCR offices in Campeche, Chiapas and Guatemala undertook numerous activities to support such initiatives. These initiatives were implemented by women's organizations. Equal representation by refugee women in numerous areas such as camp meetings, food distribution, land visits for repatriation purposes, repatriation grants and technical assistance packages in Guatemala were actively promoted. In response to concerns raised by male NGO staff members and by way of follow-up to a 1996 evaluation of the work in Chiapas, an all-male group has been set up to discuss "masculine identity". This initiative is expected to provide important inputs for the humanitarian agencies to enable them to work more closely with men refugees on gender issues. All the actors in the Chiapas programme consider this a fundamental, complementary step towards achieving a sustainable improvement in the human rights situation of women.

B. Africa


32. UNHCR together with the Ministry for Gender, Family and Social Affairs of Rwanda is working towards amending the laws that discriminate against women's inheritance of land. About 80 per cent of the population of Rwanda are agriculturists and about 55 per cent of the women are female heads of household. Therefore access to land for the refugee women is critical for their survival and safe reintegration.

33. The Rwandan Women's Initiative is a special programme which seeks to assist the victims and survivors of the genocide, and the returnee women in the areas of shelter, economic empowerment, reproductive health and legal assistance. The legal assistance is provided with the active collaboration of HAGARUKA, the Rwandan Women Lawyers Association, which also conducts legal awareness training. Under the shelter project, Rwandan women who have traditionally never built houses are being trained in brick-making and shelter construction.

C. Asia


34. Refugee women are being trained in rights awareness on issues such as early child marriages, dowry deaths, domestic violence, sexual violence and trafficking. The women also receive leadership and other skills training in order to give them self-confidence to participate in the camp leadership and management structures.

D. Europe


35. UNHCR has been active in pursuing the realization of the objectives of the Beijing Platform for Action and the CIS Conference by supporting the Centre for Democracy and Human Rights in it promotion of human rights through workshops and conferences on "Rights of Women and Children in Armenia", "Children and Women in Prisons", and "Women and Men: toward Real Equality". UNHCR's Branch Office in Armenia will be pursuing the strengthening of national legislation based on recommendations from the above-mentioned conferences by focusing on the establishment of better laws concerning sexual abuse and domestic violence. In addition, counselling with professional staff linked to legal, social and medical care will be provided to promote reporting of violations of women's rights. UNHCR has also had an input into the "Gender in Development Unit" of the Armenian Government, supported by UNDP, with the goal of further integrating universal gender policies into Armenian Government and society.


36. Several of the BWI projects aim to empower women through different types of activities, such as micro-enterprise development, skills training, integration into the economic revitalization process, legal advisory services, communication and information through mass-media, provision of basic education to women and community-based psychosocial counselling.

37. Through the Legal Assistance Centre for women in Bosanska Krupa, legal help is given to needy and destitute women (internally displaced persons, female heads of households, war widows, returnees and elderly women among others) to enable these women to exercise their legal rights in their pursuit of safe return and stable reintegration.

1 EC/1995/SC.2/CRP.6, Overall Programme and Funding Projections for 1994 and 1995 and Revised 1995 General Programmes Target; EC/47/SC/CRP.19, Progress Report on Refugee Children and Adolescents, Including UNHCR's Strategy for Follow-up to the Report on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children; EC/1995/SC.2/CRP.22, UNHCR's Women Victims of Violence Project in Kenya: An Evaluation Summary; EC/1995/SC.2/CRP.25, Draft Report of the 20 June 1995 Meeting of the Sub-Committee on Administrative and Financial Matters; EC/46/SC/CRP.35, Update on Regional Developments in Africa; EC/47/SC/CRP.37, Update on Regional Developments in Central, East and West Africa.