International Women's Day: UNHCR welcomes progress in gender equality and empowerment of refugeee women

News Stories, 8 March 2013

© UNHCR/M.Sibiloni
A young displaced Congolese woman cooks dinner in a camp in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Displacement has become a way of life for many in the region, and displaced women are at great risk of abuse, including rape.

GENEVA, March 8 (UNHCR) UNHCR chief António Guterres on Friday welcomed advances made by the refugee agency and its staff in pursuit of gender equality and the empowerment of women but stressed that more needed to be done.

"Let us not forget that most people of our concern live far from a world in which women, girls, men and boys are treated equally and without discrimination," Guterres said in his annual message on International Women's Day. "Our efforts must continue in order to make progress in this regard, one step at a time," he added.

Noting the theme of this year's commemoration, "A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women," the High Commissioner recalled that he had pledged at a ministerial meeting in Geneva in 2011 to strengthen UNHCR's commitment to address sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).

"All of us together have been working hard to realize this promise. Country-specific SGBV strategies are currently being developed and implemented in 15 countries. Operations around the world have been carrying out new or expanded projects on SGBV prevention and response, sanitary materials and female genital mutilation," he said.

He added that UNHCR was also developing internal capacity, improving data collection and analysis and strengthening its monitoring and evaluation of SGBV programmes. "We are enhancing the way UNHCR and its partners prevent and respond to SGBV in ongoing emergencies, by establishing coordination mechanisms and reinforcing capacity in the field. With the widespread use of sexual violence as a weapon of war in conflicts all around the globe, these efforts are absolutely crucial to the realization of our protection mandate."

Guterres stressed that the promotion of gender equality was an integral component of UNHCR's age, gender and diversity approach, "and should inform everything we do. In particular, we must strengthen our commitment to ensuring that women and girls are active participants in decision-making, and promote their empowerment through their communities."

He said UNHCR's Division of International Protection had been collecting good practices from operations around the world on promoting gender equality and women's empowerment, to build momentum within the refugee agency and inspire others.

The High Commissioner concluded that the "full realization of gender equality is a distant yet possible goal, and one towards which we must remain strongly committed. This is true also for our continued struggle to progress towards attaining gender parity among UNHCR staff."

Meanwhile, UNHCR staff and offices around the world were on Friday marking and celebrating International Women's Day, one of the most important dates in the year for the organization.




International Women's Day 2013

Gender equality remains a distant goal for many women and girls around the world, particularly those who are forcibly displaced or stateless. Multiple forms of discrimination hamper their enjoyment of basic rights: sexual and gender-based violence persists in brutal forms, girls and women struggle to access education and livelihoods opportunities, and women's voices are often powerless to influence decisions that affect their lives. Displaced women often end up alone, or as single parents, battling to make ends meet. Girls who become separated or lose their families during conflict are especially vulnerable to abuse.

On International Women's Day, UNHCR reaffirms its commitment to fight for women's empowerment and gender equality. In all regions of the world we are working to support refugee women's participation and leadership in camp committees and community structures, so they can assume greater control over their lives. We have also intensified our efforts to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence, with a focus on emergencies, including by improving access to justice for survivors. Significantly, we are increasingly working with men and boys, in addition to women and girls, to bring an end to dangerous cycles of violence and promote gender equality.

These photographs pay tribute to forcibly displaced women and girls around the world. They include images of women and girls from some of today's major displacement crises, including Syria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali and Sudan.

International Women's Day 2013

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.


Advocacy is a key element in UNHCR activities to protect people of concern.

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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