Friday, March 4, 2011

Australia for UNHCR supporting International Women's Day

An internally displaced Congolese
mother camps close to the 
military base in Masisi for security
A few months ago I was sitting on the ground in a remote refugee camp, under a shady tree with a group of refugee women who had come together to share their experiences with me. The peace and quiet surrounding us belied the horror stories they recounted. Nearly all had been raped, had suffered mutilation and torture, or been victims of domestic violence. In this one refugee settlement alone it was estimated that more than 50% of the women arriving had been raped.

When one woman calmly told me how she had been raped by several men, left for dead, and then when returned to her family had been “resewn” with thorns to restore her “virginity”, I was overwhelmed.

One woman, seeing the tears in my eyes, took my hand and comforted me, saying “Sister, don’t cry. Don’t be sad. We have all have been raped and it is okay.”

But of course it is not okay. As Australia celebrates our first female Prime Minister, many millions of women still suffer appalling abuses of rights in their everyday lives.

The situation for refugee women is even more precarious. Displacement compounds the many issues women already face such as sexual and gender based violence, poor reproductive health, and limited access to education and income generation.

Australian women still face challenges such as equal pay, affordable childcare, representation on Boards, and – sadly, as I told my refugee friends – sexual and gender based violence here too. (The refugee women were very surprised that domestic violence and sexual assault also happened in Australia. They thought it was something that only happened in their world.)

Burundi is host to around 24,500
refugees, the majority of whom
originate from the DRC
But while we aim for the glass ceiling, I believe we also have a responsibility to reach out and pull up the many women around the world who are still stuck on the dirt floor.

For me this is what International Women’s Day is really all about.

Naomi Steer, National Director

Feel free to visit our website and see how we will be supporting refugee women on March 8th, 2011.


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