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World Refugee Day 2002: Refugee Women

World Refugee Day 2002: Refugee Women

22 June 2002

Refugee children wash their families' clothes in Djabal camp. Many children are overwhelmed with daily chores and as a result attend school only sporadically.

Women and children normally make up an estimated 75 percent of any refugee population. Despite that telling statistic, when delegates met in the Swiss city of Geneva a half century ago to draw up the definition of a refugee and adopt the 1951 Refugee Convention, the so-called Magna Carta of international refugee law, they did not even consider the issue of gender persecution. But times, and the attention given to women's issues, are changing. The European Parliament in 1984 approved what was then a revolutionary resolution asking member states for the first time to consider women who ran afoul of religious or social taboos as a "particular social group" for the purpose of determining whether they qualified for refugee status.

Individual countries, the United Nations and humanitarian organizations such as UNHCR followed suit with their own specific guidelines on many women's problems. In 2001,a U.N.War Crimes Tribunal handed down its first conviction for rape as a crime against humanity and the International Criminal Court will have jurisdiction over a wide spectrum of offenses ranging from sexual slavery to enforced prostitution.

This high-level political activism in turn spawned many special projects at the field level to provide better healthcare, combat sexual violence, increase literacy and skills training and involve women more fully in social, economic and political decision making.

At a glance

There are approximately 50 million uprooted people around the world, refugees who have sought safety in another country and people displaced within their own country. Between 75-80 percent of them are women and children.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees cares for 21.8 million of these people. Around half of them are women and girls.