UN Women statement on World Refugee Day

Date: Monday, June 20, 2016

Syrian women refugees receiving vocational training in Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. Photo: UN Women/ Christopher Herwig

Today, on World Refugee Day, we recognize those who have been uprooted from their homes at an unprecedented scale, leaving some 60 million people displaced worldwide. In our response to this crisis, it is critical that we address the unique needs of women and girl refugees, and provide them with durable opportunities for empowerment.

With such levels of urgent need, normal protection structures often disappear, leaving the human rights of women and girls particularly at risk. They are often explicit targets of violence and subjugation by extremist groups, with an estimated one in five displaced women in complex humanitarian settings having experienced sexual violence. This number is likely to be an underestimation, given the structural and cultural barriers to reporting such incidents that exist in many parts of the world.

Women and girls are often denied equal access to essential health services and education opportunities. Girls are almost 2.5 times more likely to be out of school in countries affected by conflict, and studies show that girls are less likely to have access to education in situations of displacement than boys. With health services often absent or overstretched, women and girls are frequently denied the right to basic sexual and reproductive healthcare; 60 per cent of preventable maternal mortality deaths take place in settings of conflict, displacement and natural disasters.

Women refugees have few economic opportunities to build their livelihoods, with their earning options often limited to low-paid and low-skilled informal work in addition to having to carry the burden of unpaid family labour. This increases the risk that refugee women are put in the position where their only option is to engage in transactional sex.

There is an urgent need for humanitarian action to ensure refugee women and girls have access to secure transit routes, safe spaces and protection when they arrive in a host country, and resources and services that will help them to build a post-conflict life free from violence and poverty. Women and girl refugees have an enormous capacity for resilience and the potential to become powerful agents of change. They play an important role in preparing for and responding to crises, and their leadership in decision-making is essential for lasting peace and stability. 

UN Women remains dedicated to promoting the human rights of displaced women and girls, and ensuring that their voice is heard at the highest levels. On 19 September 2016, the UN will host a High-Level Plenary of the General Assembly in New York to address the large movements of refugees and migrants. UN Women is working with other UN entities to support Member States in ensuring the outcome of this meeting paves the way for the protection of the human rights of women and girls in refugee settings and host communities, and empowers them in their capacity for resilience and leadership.

Sources for statistics mentioned can be found here.