Displacement through a Gender Lens : Progress, Challenges and Advancing Partnerships

Blog of Donatella Benjamin, SI UN Representative in Geneva.

Held every four years, the Global Refugee Forum is the main platform of the Global Compact on Refugees, adopted in 2018 by the UN General Assembly with four main goals:

  • relieve pressure on host countries,
  • strengthen the autonomy of refugees,
  • broaden access to solutions in third countries,
  • promote conditions for a safe return to countries of origin.

The second Global Refugee Forum (GRF) was co-convened in Geneva between 13 and 15 December 2023 by five states – Colombia, France, Japan, Jordan, and Uganda – and co-hosted by the government of Switzerland and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Global Refugee Forum 2023 | UNHCR

Over 4,000 politicians, UN officials, refugees, as well as representatives from civil society organisations and the private sector attended the three-day event aimed at finding long-term solutions to support more than 114 million displaced people worldwide.

Displacement through a Gender Lens

On 12 December, Donatella Benjamin, SI UN Representative in Geneva, participated to the event ‘Displacement through a gender lens: progress, challenges and advancing partnerships’, linked to the GRF and organised by UN Women, the Government of Norway and the Permanent Mission of Ukraine in Geneva. During the panel discussions representatives from governments, women’s organisations, and women refugees shared good practices and leverage partnerships to advance gender equality in displacement settlings.

Conflicts and violence are widespread across the world; coupled with climate-related disasters, the number of forcibly displaced population has reached 110 million people worldwide at the end of June 2023 due to persecution, conflict, violence and human rights violations, reminded at the event opening Manisha Thomas, moderator, Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC).

The disproportionate effect of crises on women and girls, who constitute more than half of the displaced population, was then emphasised by Tine Mørch Smith (Director General, Department of Multilateral Affairs, Norway), and Ukraine’s Ambassador and permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, Yevheniia Filipenko. Discriminatory laws, increased care responsibilities and heightened risks of gender-based violence underscore the urgent need for policies recognising and treating displaced women and girls equally. Women and girls represent 85% of all Ukraine refugees.

Panel Discussion: The Country Perspective

The first panel discussion ‘Policy: hearing from the country perspective’, illustrated with positive examples how female refugees were supported in Uganda, Jordan, Moldova and Kenya.

Dr Siimwe Douglas, Uganda Commissioner for Refugees, explained that his country, with a population of 49 Moi, receives refugees on a daily basis: they total 1,6 Mio. today, of whom 81% are female. According to Ugandan law, women can obtain asylum based on gender-discrimination practices alone. Uganda cooperates daily with UN Women and Norway to respond to the challenges of gender integration and building capacities for women empowerment.

Jordan hosts the higher percentage of refugees who fled from Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Yemen, Sudan and Somalia. Samia Samdi, Jordan Ministry, highlighted the actual situation in Gaza and the forced displacements of the population which affect women disproportionately. Jordan extensively cooperates with UNHCR and UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) by giving working-permits and encouraging home-made businesses created and run by women.

The Ukrainian crisis hit Moldova and posed major challenges to its relatively small neighbour. Moldova reacted by showing an incredible solidarity and giving shelter to the higher percentage of Ukrainian refugees’ pro capita, even if it had no previous experience in migration policies. Dominika Stojanowska, UN Women Moldova, highlighted how women and girls, older and handicapped people who fled the war were encouraged to live in communities; cooperation with local organisations was excellent since the beginning and continued thanks to the direct contact with Ukrainian women. Goods links between local authorities, civil society, Ukrainian women organisations, and development partners considerably increased the refugees’ quality of life.

Kenya hosts 600,000 refugees, of which 70% are women and children, in two settlements since 1991. Strategic planning and new laws in 2021 have allowed a better integration of refugees. Anna Mutavati, UN Women Kenya, explained that under UNHCR leadership, UN Women had partnered with the Government and cooperated with women-led organisations,improving the situation at all levels: police, health, planning, education and economic empowerment. The private sector is at the centre of their work for refugees vocational training and creates working possibilities, for instance with Toyota factories and the Japan Government.


Panel Discussion: Hearing from Women Leaders

A second panel ‘Practice: hearing from women leaders’ gave the opportunity to activists and leaders of women’s organisations to highlight needs and solutions in the same countries. Listening first to women refugees’ specific needs was crucial: these were essentially cultural barriers, challenging stereotypes, psychological problems, shelter, economic and financial issues, health … As for the solutions, discussing and listening to refugees’ suggestions was equally essential: build local infrastructures, increase leadership capacities, educate on human rights, create safe spaces, organise training for creating new jobs, coordinate with local and women-led associations.

One of the main challenges reported by many speakers was the lack of funding for long-term efforts. However, one of the solutions came from Makena Rubimbwa, managing Director of INKOMOKO, which works with micro and small entrepreneurs including refugees across Africa. Ms Rubimbwa explained that INKOMOKO has supported more than 60’000 small entrepreneurs in Africa (60% of which were women) through micro-finance and partnerships with governments and the private sector, thus helping to build thriving communities and support women and girls. Repayment rate is an astonishing 96%!

Closing Remarks

In her closing remarks Francesca Bonelli, UNHCR Moldova Representative, stressed that Moldova’s response to the refugee’s afflux was an example of solidarity and strength: women and girls received immediate assistance, but they were also considered as fully capable to engage in response and give back assistance, building a better society for all. Ms Bonelli conclusion was: let’s be humble, listen to others strengths, fight for equal rights and give the possibility to capture the energy of everyone for building a better society.

Osnat Lubrani, Head of Humanitarian Section UN Women Geneva Office, concluded by highlighting the importance to listen to women and girls to respond more effectively to their needs. Once more, she emphasised the importance to access to comprehensive and reliable data to analyse situations.

This event went beyond short-term humanitarian responses by advocating for long-term solutions that empower women and girls with education, skills development, and socio-economic integration tools. It also highlighted that no policy should be decided without the full and direct participation of women and girls:nothing for them without them”.

Further Reading

To learn more about SI’s stance on global issues, make sure to check out our Where We Stand Position Papers.

Related to this article: Where We Stand – Refugees and Migrants



Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Subscribe to receive the Soroptimist International Newsletter by email.