World Refugee Day 2018

The number of people forcibly displaced from their homes worldwide hit a new record in 2017: 68.5 million. It’s the equivalent of 44,400 people each day, and means that the world’s forcibly displaced population is now greater than the total population of the United Kingdom.

Two-thirds of all refugees come from 5 countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar & Somalia. In March, the conflict in Syria entered its eighth year, with no end in sight. Since August last year, hundreds of thousands of people have fled to Bangladesh to escape violence in Myanmar. Millions from South Sudan have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.

Much of our news coverage remains focused on refugee resettlement in developed countries, or rather, on developed countries’ efforts to restrict access, block borders and, most recently, to tear families apart. However, figures show that developing regions host 85% of the world’s refugee population.

At least 1 in 5 refugees or displaced women in complex humanitarian settings have experienced sexual violence. Children make up 52% of refugees worldwide. 9 months on from the Myanmar military crackdown, thousands of Rohingya rape victims are giving birth in Bangladesh’s refugee camps.

The state of our world today will go down in history. Children will study it in classrooms of the future. And yet, as new reports roll in, numbers rise, conflicts persist, disasters strike and crises unfold, it can be difficult just to keep up, never mind to feel hopeful or inspired or useful.

This year, the statistics and stories shared to mark World Refugee Day feel overwhelming to me and the scale of our global crisis feels paralysing. But if nothing else, today is a much-needed reminder to stay informed, and to encourage the people around us to do so too.

This year, World Refugee Day is a reminder that no act is too small and that words have power. It’s a reminder to take breaks from scrolling and shopping and feeling disconnected to give ourselves time to read and listen and do what we can to remain aware. The world needs us to be informed so that we can speak, act and vote in ways that help us move into a future where all people can live in peace and security.

5 Easy Ways to Stay Informed this World Refugee Day:
  1. Read the new UNHCR report on global displacement.
  2. Read articles and look at photographs which highlight the humans behind the numbers.
  3. Read blog posts by women and girls around the world.
  4. Take time to research local organizations supporting refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants in your own neighborhood/country, and find out how you can best support them. It could be by donating money, volunteering your time or simply by helping to spread the word about their work.
  5. Celebrate examples of passionate collective action and remember: we are not powerless.

Education Combats Gender Based Violence

Amidst today’s global turmoil, let us not overlook the ongoing gender based violence impacting women and girls on a daily basis.  One-third of women in the world have been beaten, forced into sex, or abused.  One in five will become a victim of rape or attempted rape.  In conflict zones, gender based violence is epidemic.

Myanmar is not exempt from this impact on basic human rights.  The country has been immersed in civil wars and conflict since the 1960’s. At that time the military junta enacted the Four Cuts policy, consisting of “attacking villages, forcing ethnic villagers to move into heavily controlled relocation sites, destroying their homes and crops, and planting landmines in their former villages and farms to prevent their return”.

Thousands of children have been displaced by ongoing conflict in Myanmar, limiting their access to education, psycho-social support, and protection.  Impacts to these children are severe, especially for girls who are at high risk of sexual assault.

The story of Chang Chang is, unfortunately, too familiar.  She was attacked and raped in her village, along with four of her friends, by a group of Burmese military soldiers. News spread quickly, and she was punished for bringing shame to her family, school and community. Her teacher caned her in front of the entire school, and then expelled her.  Later, she was expelled from her community. Left without support from her community or the opportunity of education, she was arrested by the police for “defaming” the same soldiers that raped her. The official charge for which she was sentenced to one year in prison was prostitution.

Simultaneously, Burmese women continue to be victims of domestic violence.  Under Myanmar’s penal code, marital rape is only criminalized if the wife is younger than 14 years old. No specific laws exist to prohibit domestic violence, and women’s shelters and centers are rare.  The most commonly reported internal coping strategy for women in dealing with abuse is to ‘stay silent’.

Patriarchy is embedded in their lives.  Women are not considered capable of leadership and are frequently described as “useless”, using a Burmese phrase that describes inability and incompetence.  It is not surprising to hear the Burmese proverb – “if you beat your wife until her bones are broken, she will love you more”.

NOW the timing for change in Myanmar is optimal.  The country opened to the world in 2012. On November 8th, 2015, Myanmar conducted its first democratic election in 25 years.  Senior citizens and young activists waited in lines for hours to vote for the first time in their lives.

When Parliament convenes in January, 11% of the seats will be held by women.  An increased number of women in Parliament provides a voice for women’s issues and the power to affect change and implement applicable laws.

Women’s activist and electorate Cheery Zahau believes that empowering women is the first step towards a truly developed society.  Cho Cho Aye, Yangon electorate, hopes that more female representation in parliament will help address domestic violence across the country.

Educational Empowerment believes the answer to ending gender based violence is education.   Education will change the existing mindset that women and girls are not deserving of equal rights.  Education will enable boys to better understand girls’ issues and encourage them to contribute to a gender equal society.  Education will empower girls with self-confidence and self-esteem. Education will change a society’s practice and reduce conflict.

This year’s theme for 16 Days of Activism Against GBV is “Make Education Safe For All”.  Let’s call for action on the part of global policy makers to honor and fulfill girls’ right to education, equality, and safety.  Encourage policymakers to:

  • implement primary and secondary school-wide curriculum on gender awareness, healthy relationships, sexual health and rights, and human rights
  • develop and implement guidelines for teachers and school counselors to recognize signs of child abuse
  • respond to children’s experiences of violence sensitively within and outside school, and utilize local authorities to remedy the actions.

You too can take immediate action:

  • Join Girls Globe conversation on Twitter @GirlsGlobe
  • Become a champion for girls’ and women’s rights.
  • Donate to Educational Empowerment at donate.
  • Let your voice be heard for girls worldwide!

Educational Empowerment was created by women and for women and girls. EE promotes literacy and education for children, families and communities severely affected by poverty and injustice in Myanmar. By empowering women and girls through education, we position women in Myanmar to attain their equal rights.

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