It has been an amazing year. We have seen progress for women and girls (link to Dec 22 post), and the new Sustainable Development Goals were agreed upon by the member states of the United Nations.
This has also been a year of several tragedies – including terrorist attacks in Paris, deaths in the Mediterranean, continued persecution and conflict forcing even more people to flee their homes. It is now estimated that almost 60 million people are displaced – the highest number since the Second World War.
Women and children continue to be the most vulnerable group in displaced communities. The United Nations estimate that 80% of the world’s refugees are women, children and young people. Girls are at risk for child, early and forced marriage. Women are still in need of sexual, reproductive and maternal health services, that in many times are not available to them. Gender based violence is rampant.
Today is Christmas Eve, celebrated and recognized by individuals across the globe in different ways and according to different customs, cultures and religions. It is the most celebrated day of the year in Sweden – where I come from. As you read this, people are preparing their Christmas dinner, including herring and meatballs, huddled together with the family in front of the television to watch the Disney Special, or wrapping gifts and putting together smart and witty rhymes to go with them. Christmas traditions differ from culture to culture and family to family, but one thing is generally the same – we buy things. We buy presents, we buy food, and we buy more than we ever do throughout the year.
Christmas consumption in Sweden will meet a new high this year – with an estimated economic growth of 5 % in December, equalling a revenue of SEK 75 billion (approximately USD 8.5 billion).
At the same time nationalism and xenophobia is growing in Sweden, as an increasing number of refugees are fleeing war and conflicts and seeking asylum in Sweden. The number of European migrants walking the streets of Swedish cities are record high. So far this year, almost 150 000 people have seeked asylum in Sweden (about 30 % being women and girls). This amounts to only about 0.25 % of all currently displaced people – and roughly 1.5 % of the Swedish population.
Refugees are not a burden. Refugees are individuals with hopes and dreams, who have been ripped up from their roots to come to a new and unknown place. Due to the conflicting policies of European immigration laws – many migrants choose dangerous routes to find a safe haven (learn more by watching Hans Rosling’s informative Fact Pod).
The global humanitarian community is struggling to make ends meet – to ensure that there are enough means to support the millions of refugees across the world.
I don’t wish to change the traditions of giving around Christmas time, as for me, this is a dear tradition – and I love seeing the smiling faces of children who unwrap their gifts. I also don’t want to completely criticize Swedes’ spending – as it is a means to improve the Swedish welfare economy, giving us a chance to welcome more people to live in our prospering country.
If there is something I wish for this Christmas, it is compassion, solidarity and logic.
We are living in an evermore interconnected world. For us to meet the new Sustainable Development Goals – see an end to global poverty, find solutions to conflicts and crises, and ensure gender equality – it is essential for us all to understand that we all have a role to play. We must learn more about the world we live in, to come with real and impactful solutions, that go beyond our own wallets and backyards.
Refugees will not destroy your well-being, ignorance will.
It is a privilege to live in country that can help and provide safe places for people fleeing terror, violence and hatred. It is my hope that Sweden will continue to be such a place and that more countries can follow.
There are many things you can do to learn more, starting off reading relevant articles here on Girls’ Globe (see below). However, I want to specifically list a few things that you can do to help this holiday season:
- Share your home and give refugees shelter for the night, via Refugees Welcome – available in nine European countries (and growing).
- Winter is here! Donate jackets, sweaters and more. Find a group on Facebook that is organizing charity runs for refugees. (Like this one in my home town Malmö).
- Volunteer a helping hand. Around Europe train stations and other transportation hubs may need help to pass out information and more. Find out what is available in your city.
- Support UNFPA‘s work to provide essential hygiene and maternal health to women in emergencies. $25 provides a woman with hygiene essentials for six months, enabling her to maintain her dignity. $90 buys clean birthing kits for up to 40 pregnant women who cannot get to a hospital.
- Support Plan International‘s work helping families and children seeking refuge from the Syrian crisis.
- Give a gift to the Women’s Refugee Commission – the only international agency dedicated solely to protecting refugee women’s rights to sexual and reproductive health care, to freedom from gender-based violence, and to economic and social empowerment.
- Support the International Rescue Committee‘s work.
Here’s to the power we hold in our hands to help. Wishing you all a warm, safe and friendly holiday season.