On March 22nd, the Metro NY Chapter of the US National Committee for UN Women held a panel event “The Perilous Journey of Women Refugees Worldwide” to coincide with the 60th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Katherine Garcia, co-president of the Metro NY Chapter welcomed a full house at the Church Center for the United Nations. Also making welcoming remarks was moderator Reena Ninan, who as an accomplished journalist herself was enthusiastic about the day's topic of women refugees and shared how difficult it is to generate media attention to these crises. The four other esteemed panelists contributing to the discussion were Mr. Daniel Seymour, Deputy Director for Programmes UN Women; Ms. Ugochi Daniels, Chief of the Humanitarian and Fragile Context Branch, United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA); Ms. Joan Timoney, Senior Director of Advocacy and External Relations, Women’s Refugee Commission; and Dr. Dorothy Morgos, head of MSF-USA’s psychosocial care unit with Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).The panel addressed the specific needs women refugees have during their displacement. Each panelist had a distinct area of expertise that allowed different angles of the refugee crises to be analyzed, while also sticking to the key argument that women refugees face very specific threats on their journey to asylum, and it doesn't end once they eventually reach it. Daniel Seymour started the conversation by stating there is no system nor mechanism for measuring how money donated to help refugees work for women and girls, a worrying reality in which probably a poor amount is going to them. Also it's been seen that when rations for food at refugee camps are given to men, more children go hungry; when given to women, less children are, and he backed this up with his own first hand experiences. Proving that giving opportunity and putting the power in the hands of women would most likely improve conditions.
"Featured first, funded last" was a statement by Ugochi Daniels that resonated with the audience about the way humanitarian programs and news broadcasts feature images of suffering women and children to attract attention and gain sympathy from the rest of the world. Then when the funds come through women and children are in truth, the last hands the money goes into. Some of the work the UNFPA does is distribute 'Dignity Kits' which include toothbrushes, soap, bras and other small necessities. She recounted of being questioned by people on how you can provide dignity in a box, and voiced that those questioning have obviously never been in the severe circumstances of a refugee camp where these modest items can be so meaningful and important to a woman's life. Joan Timoney spoke on the harsh realities of the long and dangerous journey up to the USA from the Americas women have to make, to seek refuge from a life of violence and domestic abuse. Explaining that often women take birth control or get a patch before leaving as they know rape will be inevitable along the way. The fact that making this threatening journey is a better choice for them than staying put at home shows the severity of their situations. Dr. Dorothy Morgos stressed how imperative it is to not re-victimize refugees, because even though they might be displaced and driven from their homes, they are not just helpless victims in need of saving. She focuses on resilience with her patients and told some touching stories of women and girls she's worked with, reminding the audience that a refugee's journey doesn't end with finding a safe place to live and that psychological and physcosocial support is needed long term. Sexual assault is prevalent within refugee camps and many women and children will refuse to eat or drink through fear of being raped in the latrine. It was said that 20% of female refugees will experience an act of sexual assault, and this is just one of the many difficulties women have to endure as a displaced person. Refugees make trips with risk because of hope that their destination will be better than the one they've left. Daniel Seymour noted, it is what anyone would do to protect themselves and their family, and that most refugees of course would want to go home if it was an option. Unfortunately refugees are displaced on average of 20 years, and the respected panel demonstrated the importance of addressing the needs of displaced women, empowering them, and providing them with hope in the face of their circumstances.Photographer: Andrew Fitzsimons