Protection and agency of women and girls – working towards a feminist Global Refugee Forum

Women & girls

Protection and agency of women and girls – working towards a feminist Global Refugee Forum

03 December 2023
An illustration made during the workshop, drawing upon key themes. It includes illustrations of women standing together, women as super heroes, raising their fists in solidarity, a dove with peacebuilding written on it, and phrases including change, we have a strong story to tell, we are the leaders, knowledge exchange, impact community, we have to work on the ground.

The Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) calls for a multistakeholder and partnership approach to improving the lives of refugees and their host communities and find lasting solutions to displacement. At the second Global Refugee Forum (GRF) in December 2023, the spotlight will be on the international community, evaluating the progress made over the last four years towards achieving the objectives of the GCR, and hearing what more will be done.

The Action Network on Forced Displacement – Women as Agents of Change (ANFD) is a supportive network of grassroots organizations, created by Germany following the first GRF in 2019. This network has been working to ensure the inclusion of women and girls at all levels of decision-making, sharing solutions to address gender-based violence (GBV), improving partnerships with women refugee-led organizations, and advancing gender equality in displacement settings.

"We don’t just want our voices heard. We want to be given roles to be part of the solution, to be part of the decision making."

During the annual meeting of ANFD on "Stronger Together: Feminist Partnerships in Displacement" in September 2023, members reflected on the expert roles that displaced women are playing in shaping the Global Refugee Forum (GRF). Network members want pledges which are truly transformative to develop societal structures and contribute developing joint and partnership-based positions and recommendations for the GRF in December 2023 and beyond.

"We talk about bringing people to the table, but maybe we need to crush the table and sit on the floor."

The need for change

Of the more than 100 million people displaced worldwide, over half are female. One in five displaced women experience sexual violence, yet in decision-making, too little of their experience and knowledge is utilised.

Refugee women-led organizations (WLOs) are on the frontline of gender-based violence prevention, providing services to women and girls with little to no resources or funding. The organizations often face discrimination due to the gender and refugee status of the people running them. Furthermore, complex funding application processes can delay access to funds or place them out of reach entirely. As one ANFD partner put it, "Too much time is spent discussing which silo the funding goes through. Survivors of trafficking and abuse don’t care if it’s from development funding or funding to tackle GBV. They just want help."

These issues are further compounded by multiple, intersecting barriers rooted in gender and other forms of inequality, for example the lack of economic empowerment experienced by displaced women, and even worse for women with disabilities and/or living in remote areas. Unpaid care work is mainly carried out by women and girls. Access to education, health, food security, etc., and the exercise of human rights is unequal depending on age, gender, and diversity (AGD). Pledges must be AGD-inclusive and incorporate measures to ensure non-discrimination.

"I have no dreams, because I have no future" – the heart-breaking words of a seven-year-old girl from Iraq, expressing the reality faced by millions of girls whose agency and basic freedoms have long been denied.

Overcoming challenges, focusing on potential

The Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund, a partner of the ANFD and UNHCR, was established to move away from the victimization of women. As Ghita El Khyari of the Fund said, “Protection is important, but we need agency.” Being part of the Network – and not alone – gives its members a platform to keep pushing for progress and to overcome crises.

Through their deep understandings of the communities where they work and their knowledge and lived experience, women-led organizations are uniquely placed to help address GBV. Strategies to tackle GBV already being used by WLOs include the provision of support networks and healing spaces, research and advocacy, women’s economic empowerment and skills building, for example through access to vocational training and micro-financing and working with adolescent girls to provide psychosocial support.

ANFD members also highlighted the strong role women play as peacekeepers and the difference they could make in the current world climate where international relations are so strained.

A collective need for solutions

"The best hope for change is through collective and multi-stakeholder collaboration guided by women's and girls’ agency." – Dominique Hyde, UNHCR Director of External Relations.

ANFD’s work is cross-cutting, covering a range of areas that affect women and girls. The Network’s focus for the GRF 2023 has been the multi-stakeholder pledge on Gender Equality and Protection from Gender-Based Violence, which will reinforce inclusion in national protection systems and access to quality GBV prevention and response services, particularly through improved collaboration and partnerships with women-led organizations, including those led by displaced and stateless women and girls.

At the ANFD annual meeting, discussions also covered how policy changes are not enough if societal attitudes remain hostile. The world’s media will have a pivotal role to play to bring about the change that is needed, as hate speech and misinformation are a growing concern. Ahead of the GRF, a multistakeholder pledge on Digital Protection – Prevention of the Harmful Impact of Hate Speech, Misinformation, and Disinformation has been launched.

The need for a focus on trafficking was also raised, with the role refugee women and girls can play in identifying GBV risks faced by displaced and stateless women and girls, and highlighting approaches and solutions vital to reduce the numbers of those trafficked each year. A multistakeholder pledge on the Protection for Refugees and Migrants at Risk of or Affected by Trafficking in Persons has also been launched.

A GRF inspired by refugee feminist leadership

This December’s GRF is expected to host more than 150 refugee experts and representatives of organizations led by refugees, internally displaced people, and stateless persons, representing a range of ages, genders, and diverse groups, including members of UNHCR’s Refugee Advisory Board. They are co-leading pledge development and related high-level events and drafting the Joint Refugee Statement to be delivered during the opening plenary, among others. All GRF delegations are also strongly encouraged to include persons with lived experience of displacement.

"This December’s Global Refugee Forum should be remembered as a milestone in advancing Gender Equality and Protection from GBV in displacement settings. We are still in time to make it happen." – Dominique Hyde

The Funding Initiative on Forced Displacement is linked to the Action Network on Forced Displacement, and was born from a pledge made by Germany at the first Global Refugee Forum in 2019.

Dominique Hyde and other participants at the workshop for Women as Agents of Change

Svenja Schulze, Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development in Germany, and Dominique Hyde, Director of External Relations, UNHCR at the Stronger Together: Feminist Partnerships in Displacement annual meeting of the Action Network on Forced Displacement