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International Women's Day: Help us conquer challenges, refugee women tell men

International Women's Day: Help us conquer challenges, refugee women tell men

Refugee women in Kenya's Kakuma camp urged their male counterparts to help them overcome harmful cultural practices such as forced marriages and female circumcision. There were also appeals for girls to go to school and for Sudanese women to help rebuild their motherland.
9 March 2005
International Women's Day activities in Kakuma camp drew refugee men and women together for a common cause.

KAKUMA, Kenya, March 9 (UNHCR) - Festivities with a message - that was how refugees in Kakuma camp celebrated International Women's Day on Tuesday. The refugee camp in north-western Kenya was a beehive of activities as more than 5,000 refugee men and women braved the hot sun and converged at a school field to mark the annual event.

Speaking on behalf of the refugee women in Kakuma camp, Ugandan refugee Flora Achan said, "We urge our male counterparts to help us conquer the challenges posed by harmful cultural practices such as forced marriages, wife inheritance, early marriages and female circumcision."

Sounds of drums and flutes filled the air as refugees performed cultural dances and recited poems in praise of women and men who have been instrumental in supporting the empowerment of women in the camps. A group of young mothers, some as young as 16, currently attending special courses organized by the Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) broke into a Sudanese song encouraging girls to attend school.

"The song is urging girls to go to school even if it means running away from home," said Akulina Lokotho, a 17-year-old Sudanese refugee, as she danced to the beat of the drums.

A women-only football match was played, and processions were held to create awareness on issues that directly affect women, like HIV/AIDS, early marriages and the need for gender balance in decision-making committees.

"We are the mothers of this continent, why do you abuse us," read one of the banners at the venue.

The celebrations at Kakuma camp were also attended by Sudanese women leaders based in Nairobi, who brought a message of hope to their counterparts in Kakuma. Anisia Achieng, the coordinator of Sudan Women Voice of Peace, appealed to Sudanese women to start preparing themselves for home now that the peace agreement has been signed in southern Sudan.

"The women in Sudan are waiting for you to join them in the reconstruction of our motherland," she said.

Kakuma Cosmas Chanda, UNHCR's head of Sub-Office in Kakuma, read a speech by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and added, "We continue to be inspired by the consistent courage and commitment that refugees demonstrate in their pursuit to improve their status even though they are not in their own countries."

International Day of Women was also marked in Dadaab refugee camp, north-eastern Kenya. Refugees took part in a number of activities including processions, crafts exhibitions, poem recitals and sports activities. During the event, certificates and gifts were given to men and women who have made tireless efforts to promote the education of refugee girls in the camps.

By Emmanuel Nyabera in Kakuma, Kenya