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Policy memo: Where to go from here » Women's Courage

Policy memo: Where to go from here

March 3rd, 2011 by skaewert Leave a reply »

To: The UNHCR

Over the past few weeks, I have written a blog on women’s education in refugee situations for a class on critical issues in international women’s health. Time and again in our class we learned that women in many places in the world fare worse than their male counterparts in most areas of life. We have learned that women struggle to achieve the same levels of education as men almost everywhere in the world, and that it looks as though if more women received more education, it would go a long way towards ameliorating many of the world’s issues, for example, population growth. We have also learned that women in refugee settlements suffer even more abuse and violence than usual, and that their situation can often be truly dire.

Education for women in refugee situations is an enormous topic, and a short series of blogs like this one could never begin to touch on all the issues that fall under that heading. However, since starting this blog several themes have come up again and again:

  • Education is key. The importance of education in refugee situations cannot be stressed enough. It may seem less important than other issues, but after basic survival, education is among the top priorities of refugee families (1). In addition to being a basic right of every human being, education brings countless benefits to settlements and individuals. It’s helpful as a stabilizing force in the lives of children who may have suffered from traumatizing events (2), and is vital to those same children when they’ve grown up and are looking for jobs, because it can mean reintegration into society and the economy (3). Vocational training can take the place of traditional education and prepare refugees for re-entering the job market, as well as providing many women with the opportunity to generate valuable income and work toward economic independence (3).
  • Health education is hugely beneficial to women. Health education is a specific area of education that can have an enormous effect on women living in refugee settlements and help keep them safe and healthy. The example of RHG showed that health education and family planning programs can significantly decrease the number of unwanted pregnancies in a population in a settlement to below the national average, which is valuable to many women who either don’t want or can’t support more children (4).
  • Just one can make a difference. The example set by RHG, in addition to the example set by Dr. Hawa Abdi, show that even one person or group can make a difference in the lives of thousands. It takes someone to recognize a need that isn’t being met in a community and to decide to do what they can to fix that situation.

These themes provide the basis for some policy priorities and actions that should be considered when addressing the issue of women’s education in refugee settlements. The first is that more international attention be brought to the benefits of education in refugee situations, and the challenges of making that education a reality. 40% of the world’s refugees are school aged (5), which means there is a very large number of children in the world at risk for not having their basic right of education fulfilled.

Next, education needs to remain a priority. All the above benefits show that neglecting education could have very serious deleterious effects on a community and the futures of refugee children. The UNHCR already funds many schools that support thousands of children and runs teacher training programs, and should by all means continue to do so.  The Nepalese schools in the third post of this blog (6) serve as an excellent model of schools that aren’t run on much money but have been shown to be very effective at involving the community and facilitating academic success, so the UNHCR should continue working to develop and support effective and efficient programs like these.

Health education should be included in curriculums, and classes for older women health education and family planning should be offered wherever possible in order to help keep women safe and healthy.

The UNHCR should also do whatever possible to facilitate work done by legitimate independent groups, like RHG or Dr. Hawa Abdi, who are able to do so much in their communities and change the lives of thousands.

1)   http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/search?page=search&docid=4a1d5ba36&query=refugee%20education

2)   http://adc.bmj.com/content/87/5/366.full

3)   http://womensrefugeecommission.org/images/stories/Jordan_youth_FINAL_01_2010.pdf

4)   http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/fulltext/122373785/PDFSTART

5)   http://www.refugeelawproject.org/working_papers/RLP.WP09.pdf

6)   http://www.unhcr.org/3b8a1b484.pdf

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4 comments

  1. anna says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful blog entry. I have enjoyed reading your posts over the quarter.

    I also agree with the importance of education, particular in refugee camp situations. It is interesting to consider why education might be *especially* important in these contexts – thanks for mentioning these here. For example, that schooling can act as a “stabilizing force in the lives of children who may have suffered from traumatizing events.” For children who are well enough (emotionally and physically) to attend school, I imagine that the structure and community schooling provides would be immensely beneficial to their mental health in the context of a refugee camp.

    You also mention vocational training as a valuable piece of education in refugee camps, especially for refugees seeking to reintegrate into society. I think this idea is especially interesting to consider in the context of some of the articles we read during week 7 on women in conflict situations. I recall several of the readings mentioning refugees becoming more integrated into the surrounding community by learning skills that could help them generate income. Given the dependence inherent in a refugee context, giving individuals the ability to gain some control over their lives, such as in the form of earning money, seems invaluable both to the well-being of refugees and to the sustainability of camps. What do you think?

  2. Bisi says:

    Wonderful memo! I think education in refugee camps is often under-stressed because we claim that health or just day to day living requirements are the most pressing concerns and so often the steps to education are often mobilized too slowly and with little concern for standards.

    If you do plan to send this memo on, I think it is important to stress the attitudes that aid workers and refugees alike place on the value education. If aid workers’ actions do not imply the positive benefits of education, will refugees be more open to receiving education in a time of high stress? If a refugee cannot see the future past tomorrow, how can we manage to show them that education is a concern for right now? If you address these in your memo, I really think that it could persuade the UNHCR to really step up the improvements for education in refugee camps.

  3. labrian says:

    Great job overall with the blog entry! It’s interesting to hear about education in refugee camps, simply because so much attention goes towards food and water relief. Which is not to say that those things aren’t important. I feel like everyone is on the same boat with food and water being the most important two resources to provide. In high school, though, I donated to an organization that built schools in refugee camps in chad and darfur. In learning more about the organization, I realized the critical importance education plays in rebuilding a country once the disaster is over. In this way, food and water are examples of acute relief, while education can be thought of as a solution to a more chronic problem. Especially education in all the forms you suggested, vocational and the like. After a country recovers from its conflict, it needs skilled people in all sectors to reconstruct it and form a better future.

  4. taniat says:

    I agree with you in that education is key in refugee situations. I think that it is one of the most, if not THE most, important long-term investment in helping these people become independent and regain their place in society. However, I do feel that education to people of all age groups in refugee camps is a huge challenge. It is difficult for me to place myself in a refugee’s shoes and prioritize education over other needs of life, especially in an environment where there is so much uncertainty and turmoil.

    I do think that there is a great need for education and that people will participate if we can somehow integrate education into daily routine at these refugee camps. Both of my parents were refugees in the late 1970s post-Vietnam War at UNHCR’s Galang Refugee Camp in Indonesia. They never spoke of educational opportunities. I think this could be due to the fact that there were either no educational programs available or that they were too busy working to earn food. However, my mother did tell me she became very involved in a church group (even though she isn’t Christian) because it was something to do and it provided a sense of safety and community. It would be great if education can be like that in addition to a place of learning.

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