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Geneva gathering discusses livelihoods for displaced women

News Stories, 6 February 2009

© UNHCR/S.Hopper
Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda gives the keynote address at the "Worlds of Women Coming Together" event in Geneva.

GENEVA, February 6 (UNHCR) A cosmopolitan mix of women from the corporate and humanitarian aid fields gathered in Geneva on Friday to discuss the empowerment of displaced woman through livelihoods.

More than 30 people from around the world attended the half-day "Worlds of Women Coming Together" meeting, co-organized by the UN Refugee Agency and Women's International Networking. Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, general secretary of the World YWCA (Young Women's Christian Association), gave the keynote address.

Other speakers gave presentations on empowering refugee women with disabilities, UNHCR's promotion of a wide range of women's livelihood projects around the world, and the role of the corporate sector, philanthropists and diaspora women in helping empower women through livelihoods.

Gumbonzvanda said her native Zimbabwe was in a state of war when she was born and she had grown up with displacement and exclusion. Today, she said, her country was once more in crisis "and again my family and many women are displaced."

She revealed that from her years of experience and visiting camps in place like Sudan's Darfur region, she had found that protection and livelihoods were top priorities for displaced women.

"It is so dehumanizing to live in a camp for displaced people for more than 20 years and ... wait for a handout to send your kids to school, to look for medicine, to look for food," Gumbonzvanda noted, while adding: "That essence of being able to generate something in your own small way, to care, to nurture, is a profound human need."

Gumbonzvanda said the key benefits of women's livelihoods projects included the possibility of creating "alternative spaces" as well as counselling and therapeutic advantages "just being involved collectively in an initiative where you can talk about other things."

She said "it's also about developing entrepreneurial skills for self-sufficiency.... Lastly, it's about the actual results, which could be the income, the number of women involved, the benefits to the family, the benefits to the community."

UNHCR's Asia Bureau Deputy Director Pascal Moreau, meanwhile, reiterated the agency's commitment to helping empower displaced women through its Women Leading for Livelihoods (WLL) project, set up two years ago.

She explained that WLL was a fund-raising and awareness tool that enables UNHCR offices, partners and refugee women to plan and execute livelihood projects that otherwise might not have seen the light of day.

It was a relatively small programme due to competing demands and limited financial resources 28 small businesses have been set up in about a dozen countries, with total donations to date of US$630,000. Projects include a bakery in Serbia, a library and internet café in Morocco, a sewing workshop in Georgia and multi-storey market gardening in Kenya.

"This kind of meeting is very precious for us," Moreau concluded.




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.


We help refugees, refugee returnees and internally displaced people tap their potential and build a platform for a better future.

Capacity Building

Helping national authorities meet their obligations to the uprooted.

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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