[Brussels, 8 February 2016, update 5 April 2016] The European Women’s Lobby (EWL) and the Women Refugee Commission (WRC) have decided to work together to raise awareness on the situation of women and girls in Europe fleeing conflict. European and national policies are gender blind to the reality faced by women and girls on the road, especially when it comes to the different forms of violence they face at all stages of their journey towards peace. With the #womensvoices project, the EWL and WRC will join efforts to influence decision-makers thanks to strong recommendations, visible events, strengthened members’ networking, and awareness raising of the needs of women and girls refugees at both EU and national levels.
War, conflicts and climate change often hits women and children the most. Both women and men are victims of war and conflict, and are fleeing their homes. But fewer women make their way to a safer place. Several circumstances make the escape more difficult for women, such as breastfeeding, menstruating and being pregnant, and women often have the responsibility for children. Sexual abuse and violence are used as strategies to deprive women and girls of their civil and human rights. During their dangerous journeys, many women and young girls are exposed to sexual violence, rape, prostitution and trafficking.
The European Women’s Lobby has already alerted decision-makers on the situation of women and girls refugees, through an open letter to EU Ministers in light of the October 2015 European Council on Migration, calling for gender-sensitive policies and concrete action to end violence against women. In 2007, the EWL had worked with Asylum Aid UK and issued a key report "Asylum in not gender neutral: Protecting Women Seeking Asylum". The European Network of Migrant Women, a member of the EWL, will be part of the #womensvoices project, after having already issued a series of recommendations on gender-based dangers facing migrant and refugee women. The adoption of the European Parliament resolution on women and girls refugees, drafted by the Women’s Rights Committee, gives high hope that the issue will be taken seriously by EU institutions in the coming months.
The Women’s Refugee Commission has already issued three reports, based on assessment trips in Greece and Macedonia (November 2015, together with UNHCR and UNFPA), Slovenia and Serbia (December 2015), and Germany and Sweden (February 2016). In all reports, the WRC found out that refugee women and girls face grave protection risks and the current protection response by government agencies, humanitarian actors and CSOs is inadequate. The second report contains recommendations for governments and the European Union, as well as humanitarian actors, especially in light of this widespread assessment: there is virtually no consideration of gender-based violence along the route to ensure safe environments, identify survivors and ensure that services are provided to them. From its visit to Sweden and Germany, the WRC concludes that the magnitude and speed of the migration led to short-term solutions that do not address, and in some cases perpetuate, the risks of violence women and girls experience along the route.
In March this year, during the 60th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW60), the EWL, together with its members, rose awareness on the protection risks faced by women and girls, based on its joint statement to CSW. Several side events addressed the situation of women and girls refugees and asylum seekers, including EWL-NAWO event on "Displaced women and girls: The Price of Gender" with speakers from different continents (see the flyer below) and chaired by MEP Julie Ward. At the event of the US National Committee for UN Women ’Empowering women in the midst of was: SDG16 Promoting Peace and Inclusive Societies’, the EWL was invited to present the situation in Europe when it comes to peace and refugee women and stressed on the need for a stronger feminist definition of peace and security. Despite being high on the agenda of NGOs and states, the issue of refugee women does not appear in the agreed conclusions of CSW60; an article in OpenDemocracy analyses the situation and the stakes: "UN CSW: ending impunity for gender-based crimes against women refugees".
The collaboration between EWL and WRC is therefore very strategic to bring positive change for women and girls on the move. The #womensvoices project will run until June 2016, and aims at impacting on EU and national policies. Whilst the current situation of refugees is constantly evolving, we hope that the impact of our recommendations will shine a spotlight onto the different forms of violence that refugee women and girls are currently facing within Europe. We hope that by highlighting the need for gender mainstreaming and gender-sensitive policies within the asylum process, decision-makers will act at national and European level, based on their international and national obligations and on the voices of our members. We also think that our joint work will create a ripple effect among women’s and migrant and refugee women’s organisations across Europe to strengthen coordinated actions and advocacy towards their own governments.
We are currently consulting our members from all over Europe to get a clearer picture of the situation for women and girls refugees in each country, especially in terms of vulnerability to male violence and the links with asylum policies. On 2nd of June, we will organize a high-level event in Brussels to unveil our recommendations. As a mid-term step, we are organizing the #womensvoices forum on 19 April, in order to bring together EWL members and key players on the issue of refugee women and girls, coming from different perspectives: NGOs (at European and national level), European Commission, UN agencies, donors, and countries. The forum will be a closed meeting and will look at three issue we have identified as key for the project: violence against refugee women and girls, reality from the ground, engendering EU asylum policies. We hope to get concrete ideas and outcomes from the group discussions, based on plenary presentations. We will also issue a short statement ahead of the World Humanitarian Summit.
Check out EWL website and social media to find out more about the project!
- Women’s Refugee Commission: No Safety for Refugee Women in the European Route: Report from the Balkans
- Women’s Refugee Commission: Falling Through the Cracks: Refugee Women and Girls in Germany and Sweden
- WRC, UNHCR, UNFPA: Initial Assessment report: Protection Risks for Women and Girls in the European Refugee and Migrant Crisis
- ENoMW statement: Gender-based Dangers Facing Migrant and Refugee Women
- EWL joint statement to CSW60 on women and girls refugees and asylum seekers
- EWL Open letter to EU institutions: Asylum is not gender neutral: the refugee crisis in Europe from a feminist perspective
- EWL’s Position Paper: Towards a Europe Free from All Forms of Male Violence Against Women (2010)
- EWL’s Position Paper: Gender and Conflict: Towards Human Security: Engendering Peace (2010)
- EWL and Asylum Aid UK: Asylum in not gender neutral: Protecting Women Seeking Asylum (2007)
- European Parliament resolution on the situation of women refugees and asylum seekers, 8 March 2016