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Ukraine Policy Brief

April 4, 2022

The conflict in Ukraine has displaced more than 10 million people since the latest military offensive by the Russian Federation began in February 2022; more than 3.5 million people have fled to countries in the region and an additional 6.5 million people are forcibly displaced within Ukraine itself. As hostilities continue, the impact on civilians remains alarming, including damage to civilian infrastructure such as hospitals and schools, and the breakdown of vital services such as electricity and water. Among those displaced or in need of humanitarian aid due to this conflict, the Women's Refugee Commission (WRC) is particularly concerned about the situation for women, adolescent girls, children, and other marginalized populations such as people with disabilities, older people, LGBTQI+ individuals, the Roma community, and third-country nationals. Their unique needs in emergencies demand urgent responses, particularly to prevent and respond to gender-based violence (GBV); meet critical health care needs, including sexual and reproductive health (SRH) care; and uphold their human rights.This policy brief outlines WRC's key concerns and our recommendations for policy and programming.

Securing Women's Land Rights: Learning From Successful Experiences in Rwanda and Burundi

June 1, 2014

This document presents securng womens land rights and learning from successful experiences in Rwanda and Burundi. One of the best ways to learn is to experience: this allows people to see, touch, and "taste" new approaches, knowledge, and methodologies, which can then be shared and applied elsewhere. This is what a "Learning Route" aims to do, and this was the aim of the "Innovative Tools and Approaches to Secure Women's Land Rights" Learning Route, which took place in Rwanda and Burundi on 4-11 February 2014. The intention was to learn from the experiences of diverse organisations working to promote women's land rights. Those participating in the Learning Route, the ruteros, were 16 women and men working for civil society organisations (CSOs) and government programmes in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, ranging in age from those in their 20s just starting out to those in their 50s with decades of experience. Together, they visited three CaseStudy projects, one in Rwanda and two in Burundi, to learn about tools and approaches used to secure women's land rights and to question the implementing organisations, local leaders, and women and men from local communities to better understand how these worked in practice.

Building Livelihoods: A Field Manual for Practitioners in Humanitarian Settings

May 10, 2009

This publication by the Women's Refugee Commission is based on two-and-a-half years of research and 10 field assessments covering all contexts of displacement: refugee, IDP and returnee situations, in camp settings, as well as in rural and urban areas. It is informed by several pilot projects that were funded from one to three years in places such as the refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border; with women at-risk of gender-based violence who have returned to Burundi; and in the slums of Bogota, Colombia, home to a large displaced population.The field manual has been reviewed and contributed to by experts from the NGO practitioner, UN and academic communities, including those who participated in a three-day intensive workshop at the Rockefeller Foundation's conference center in Bellagio, Italy. This field manual does not provide all the answers, nor does it provide models that can be simply replicated from one context to another. Instead, it provides guidance, ideas, tools and suggestions to assist practitioners and program managers in making strategic choices about their livelihood interventions so that programs can be appropriately designed and have greater impact.This field manual was produced to assist practitioners who desire to strengthen their skills and enhance their knowledge in order to do better livelihoods and economic recovery programming. The Women's Refugee Commission hopes that the manual helps members of the humanitarian community succeed in our endeavor to do better -- the displaced deserve no less.

Refugee Girls: The Invisible Faces of War

May 7, 2009

Girls are rarely featured in the coverage of armed conflict. Given their invisibility, one might assume that girls are somehow spared involvement in war. Yet, not only are girls commonly targeted in armed conflict, in many ways their lives are more profoundly affected by it than other groups. However, their special needs are frequently overlooked or ignored.More than 140 million girls live in fragile states affected by armed conflict. Of the 42 million people who have had to flee their homes because of war, 80 percent are women, children and young people. At least 10 million are estimated to be girls and young women. When war breaks out, people may flee their homes in search of safety. They face harrowing journeys, sometimes taking weeks or months to reach the relative safety of a refugee camp in another country or a camp for internally displaced persons in their own country. They may seek refuge in an urban area, often in slums on the outskirts of a city.As they flee from war, girls face many dangers, including rape, landmines, gunfire and hunger. They may be recruited into armed forces or captured by traffickers, or they may fall ill. As they try to navigate through the chaos and confusion around them, family members may be left behind. Men and boys may stay and fight, or remain to protect the family's land and possessions.Once refugees have reached a place of relative safety, they may stay there for years: the average length of time refugees are displaced is now 17 years -- a lifetime for those displaced as young children or born during displacement. War forces girls into unfamiliar roles. A girl not yet in her teens may suddenly find herself in charge of an entire household or forced to provide most of the economic support for her family. A girl who has spent her young life shrouded and kept behind closed doors by her family to ensure her "virtue" may find herself suddenly thrust into a very adult world of sexual exploitation and abuse inflicted by war. Even as a young child, a girl may be spurned and rejected by her family if she has been raped. Or, a daughter's young body might be bartered by her family as a desperate means of getting money, food and other vital goods and services. At the same time, the unexpected new roles and responsibilities thrust upon girls during conflict confer a significant measure of independence for the first time in their lives. They may have access to education and skills training for the first time when they become refugees. Regular health care may be available, which may not have been true in their former lives. There is potential, in fact, for these new life patterns to be transformative.This book is an attempt to tell the untold story of the millions of refugee girls whose voices are almost never heard. While much of the refugee experience for girls is difficult and depressing to read about, refugee girls are resilient and strong. Their lives are not easy, yet they strive to make the most of the opportunities they are offered.

Working Women at Risk: The Links Between Making a Living and Sexual Violence for Refugees in Ethiopia

March 4, 2009

It is widely believed that economic opportunities can provide women with life options, greater participation in decision-making and more equity within the household. As a result, they are assumed to protect women against gender-based violence, including sexual assault and exploitation and domestic violence. The Women's Refugee Commission* (the Commission) traveled to Ethiopia to learn whether this assumption held true for refugees from Somalia and Eritrea. The Commission found that refugee women generally provide for themselves and their families in three ways: participating in income generating activities within the camp; selling goods and/or working in domestic labor outside of the camp; and collecting and selling firewood. Women's attempts to make a living can put them at greater risk for gender-based violence, including domestic violence, attacks while collecting firewood and harassment by employers if they are engaged in domestic work. In addition, income generating activities sponsored by aid agencies do not significantly contribute to increased income for refugee women. Finally, refugee women do not often participate in training programs that will prepare them for opportunities to earn a living if they are resettled to the United States or elsewhere.Key Findings Without access to markets and real economic opportunities, women's livelihood strategies can put them at greater risk for gender-based violence.Most current income generating programs sponsored by aid agencies do not significantly increase the income of refugee women.The provision of clean cook stoves has significantly reduced a woman's risk of gender-based violence by reducing the need to leave the camps to collect firewood for personal use. However, refugee women who continue to collect firewood do so predominantly to sell, and continue to face great risk of sexual assault as a result.Key FindingsWithout access to markets and real economic opportunities, women's livelihood strategies can put them at greater risk for gender-based violence.Most current income generating programs sponsored by aid agencies do not significantly increase the income of refugee women.The provision of clean cook stoves has significantly reduced a woman's risk of gender-based violence by reducing the need to leave the camps to collect firewood for personal use. However, refugee women who continue to collect firewood do so predominantly to sell, and continue to face great risk of sexual assault as a result.UNHCR and its donors should continue to support gender-based violence "coffee talk" discussion groups, as well as other awareness raising campaigns that appear to be addressing the underlying norms that condone violence against women.The Ethiopian government, UNHCR and its donors must provide more support for the distribution of clean cook stoves and ethanol fuel.

Earning Money/Staying Safe: The Links Between Making a Living and Sexual Violence for Refugee Women in Cairo

March 4, 2009

It is widely believed that economic opportunities provide women with life options, greater participation in decisionmaking and more equity within the household. As a result, they are assumed to protect women against gender-based violence, including sexual assault and exploitation and domestic violence. The Women's Refugee Commission* (the Commission) traveled to Cairo, Egypt to learn if and how this assumption held for refugees from Sudan, Iraq, Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea, who live and work in Cairo. Although recognized refugees and asylum seekers are eligible for a work permit, in reality they are hard to obtain. Most women the Commission met with reported great difficulty in finding employment and meeting their basic needs. Often they are forced to work in unregulated sectors, such as housekeeping and child care, which exposes them to exploitation, abuse and harassment. There are very limited services for women who have been raped or abused, or women who have experienced domestic violence. The Women's Refugee Commission did see examples of promising livelihood interventions, including programs that include vocational training and job placement components. Such programs should be emulated. Key FindingsRefugee women in Cairo report great difficulty in meeting their basic needs, immense obstacles to obtaining employment, and many report incidences of racism and xenophobia.Lack of legal access to the labor market forces refugee women to work in the unregulated, informal sector, thereby increasing their risk to gender-based violence).Existing skills training and job placement programs serving refugee women do not include sessions on gender-based violence, nor referral linkages to gender-based violence programs.Very few refugees will be resettled despite the expectation of many that resettlement in a third country is a viable durable solution. Key Recommendations: Livelihood interventions must be brought to scale and more funding should be provided for livelihood programming for vulnerable refugee women.UNHCR and partnering agencies must include considerations for gender-based violence in all programming.Efforts to identify durable solutions (voluntary return to country of origin, integration into host country or resettlement in a third country) must be intensified.The Government of Egypt should reduce impediments to securing work permits for refugees and asylum seekers, enabling broader access to the labor market.

Desperate Lives: Burmese Refugee Women Struggle to Make a Living in Malaysia

February 26, 2009

Economic opportunities provide women with life options, greater participation in decision-making and more equity within the household. As a result, they are assumed to protect women against gender-based violence.The Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children traveled to Malaysia to learn if and how this assumption held for refugees from Burma who live and work in Kuala Lumpur, the capital, without legal status or the right to work. In a hostile environment where refugees are systematically arrested, detained, whipped and deported, the Women's Commission found that in accessing the few economic opportunities available refugee women actually increased their risk of exploitation and abuse.While these women desperately need to work, without legal protection and legal status they are extremely vulnerable to violence and exploitation perpetrated by employers who are able to act with impunity because the women face deportation if they go to the police. Merely leaving the house to go to work puts refugee women at great risk of arrest and attack. Not working at all increases women's dependency on community members, spouses and neighbors, which also increases their risk of abuse.Over all, the Women's Commission found that refugee women have no safe livelihood options. The complexity of an urban setting and an adverse political environment make it very challenging for UNHCR and other refugee advocates to provide sufficient refugee protection and assistance.Key RecommendationsThe Malaysian government must provide refugees in the country with legal status. It should recognize documents issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and stop arresting registered refugees.1The Malaysian government should also uphold its 2004 commitment to issuing residence and work permits to the Rohingya population.2UNHCR and NGO service providers must develop livelihoods programs that promote cottage industry work women can do from home that link women to sustainable income. Female headed households and young single women should be targeted for these programs.Key FindingsWomen risk arrest every time they leave the house. This impedes their movement, narrowing their choices for work and limiting their interactions to mainly within their own communities.Women have limited opportunities to earn a living. The most common form of employment for refugee women is as waitresses or dishwashers in small restaurants.The work refugee women are able to do actually increases their risk of gender-based violence. Without legal status in the country and without the right to work, refugee women access employment in the informal economy where they are at high risk exploitation and abuse and have no access to legal recourse.

Halfway Home: Unaccompanied Children in Immigration Custody

February 10, 2009

Thousands of children migrate to the United States each year. Many of these children come fleeing war, violence, abuse or natural disaster; others come to reunite with family members already here, or to seek better lives for themselves. They undertake difficult journeys, often across numerous international borders, and often alone.Unaccompanied children are some of the most vulnerable migrants who cross our borders, and are in need of special protections appropriate for their situation. Yet they face additional hurdles upon arrival. They are placed in custody while their immigration cases proceed through the courts, and they must undergo adversarial immigration proceedings, often without the help of a lawyer or guardian. In March 2003, the Homeland Security Act (HSA) transferred custody of unaccompanied alien children from the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).4 ORR, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) created the Division of Unaccompanied Children's Services (DUCS) to provide care and services to this population.In an effort to assess the effectiveness of the transfer, the Women's Refugee Commission* and the law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP (Orrick) embarked on a landmark study of the conditions of care and confinement for children in immigration proceedings without a parent or guardian. We visited 30 DUCS programs, three facilities where Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detains children and three Border Patrol stations. In addition, we interviewed staff, attorneys, advocates, social workers and more than 200 children. In this report, we provide an overview of what life is like for children in DUCS, Border Patrol and ICE custody.In general, we found that the treatment of most unaccompanied children has greatly improved with the transfer of custody to DUCS. The majority of children are eventually released to parents, relatives or sponsors and a good number of those not eligible for release are held in child-friendly shelter facilities or foster home placements. DUCS has made significant improvements in the quality of medical care, has identified children in need of protection and has created a mechanism to better ensure that children are released to safe environments. In addition, DUCS has created pilot programs to provide legal assistance and guardians ad litem to some children.The recent passage of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA) should further enhance protections for children. We conclude that HHS is the most appropriate entity to provide care and custody for unaccompanied children. However, while important improvements have been made and children are better cared for, the Women's Refugee Commission found that significant child protection challenges remain under the current system.Border Patrol and ICE, which are agencies of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), continue to detain children in inappropriate facilities. In addition, the DUCS program was based in large part on the old INS model of care and has suffered from growing pains and significant challenges as a result. The transfer of custody to DUCS has shifted service provision away from a criminal justice culture and injected social services into the system; however, the intent of the transfer, which was to decouple prosecution from care, has not been fully realized. The roles of prosecutor and caretaker continue to be interwoven in a manner that interferes with the best interest of children. As a result, today's system of care is in many ways a friendlier face superimposed on the old INS model.

Reproductive Health Coordination Gap, Services Ad hoc: Minimum Initial Service Package (MISP) Assessment in Kenya

September 18, 2008

The post-election violence in Kenya in the early months of 2008 displaced more than 500,000 people. In any humanitarian crisis, certain priority reproductive health (RH) services must be put in place from the earliest stages of an emergency. These essential activities are defined in the Minimum Initial Services Package (MISP) -- the established international standard for providing RH care in emergencies. They include activities to prevent sexual violence and treat survivors; protect against the transmission of HIV; ensure delivery supplies and emergency care for pregnant women and newborns; and lay the groundwork for comprehensive RH services once conditions allow. The Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children (Women's Commission) undertook a mission to Kenya in April 2008 to assess the progress the humanitarian community has made in the institutionalization of the MISP in emergency response operations. The assessment took place four months after the crisis erupted and included visits to camp settings in the Nairobi, Kisumu, Kitale, Eldoret and Nakuru regions.Key Findings1) Despite the ongoing and urgent needs of large numbers of displaced persons, the Women's Commission found that funding was clearly inadequate to meet the unaddressed health needs of the displaced. UN emergency appeals to address humanitarian needs related to the post-election violence remained significantly underfunded at the time of the assessment, and organizations that could have continued to respond were bringing their emergency response operations to a close.2) The most significant and overarching gap in the implementation of the MISP was the absence of RH coordination at all levels.3) Awareness of the MISP among humanitarian workers in Kenya was higher than awareness levels registered in two earlier MISP assessments conducted by the Women's Commission. However, the MISP was not guiding action in Kenya which meant there were still unacceptable gaps in protection and key RH services.4) Planning to prevent high levels of sexual violence, inlcuding sexual exploitation and abuse, were strong at the national level but still inadequate at the field level. Poor security measures were noted at all but one camp and the assessment team received numerous disturbing reports of sexual exploitation and abuse by humanitarian workers, police and others.5) Mechanisms to respond to sexual violence, inlcuding sexual exploitation and abuse, were also weak at the field level. Displaced persons and representatives of humanitarian organizations reported a general atmosphere of impunity toward perpetrators of sexual violence. Health workers also suggested that many of the displaced did not know the importance of seeking treatment for sexual assault or where it was offered. Many displaced women were only slowly seeking care months after the height of the violence.6) In terms of priority activities taken to protect against HIV transmission, the findings were mostly positive. It was encouraging that health care providers were concerned from the start of the crisis about the need to prevent the transmission of HIV and to ensure people living with AIDS had continuing access to antiretroviral medicines. By all accounts, there were sufficient supplies of male condoms; however, some displaced persons reported that they were still not freely available or easy to obtain.7) The Women's Commission found that referral systems to care for pregnancy-related emergencies were not uniformly in place, and transportation for women and girls suffering from complications of their pregnancy or delivery was highly problematic in some places. While clean delivery kits were available in some settings, they were not consistently distributed to visibly pregnant women and there were shortages in some settings. In addition, no displaced women we spoke with were aware of or had heard of clean delivery kits.8) Young people appeared to be the most severely affected, with many reporting idleness due to a lack of jobs and opportunities to attend secondary school and university. In addition, young people noted that the sudden movement from their busy lives in rural areas to overcrowded urban camps where they were now idle created more exposure to the opposite sex. A sudden increase in sexual activity enhanced their vulnerability to sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, and unwanted pregnancies.Although the Kenya crisis has disappeared from the headlines, daily life remains a crisis for people who are still displaced from their homes and communities. The Kenyan government and international aid agencies must take immediate and coordinated action to address the priority RH needs of the displaced populations. In particular, the needs of young people should be prioritized considering their vulnerability to sexual exploitation and abuse and heightened risk of unsafe sex as they remain displaced or return to their homes.More broadly, this assessment highlights the need for a deeper commitment on the part of donors and the humanitarian community to the institutionalization of the MISP in humanitarian crises, particularly to ensure RH coordination from the beginning of an emergency. Adequate funding for MISP activities must be provided at the onset of an emergency, and more humanitarian workers must be trained and skilled in MISP implementation.Key RecommendationsThe United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Ministry of Health's Division of Reproductive Health should initiate reproductive health coordination, as people continue to be displaced in camps, transit camps and communities, and those returning can also benefit from such services.All agencies working to prevent sexual violence and provide care to survivors should enforce rules and procedures to prevent and manage sexual violence, address the issue of impunity, and inform communities of where and how to report incidents and the importance of seeking medical care.All agencies working in or funding the health sector should strengthen the health care system to provide care for pregnancy-related problems, especially as international agencies hand over their projects to the government and local organizations.All organizations should better engage young people in the recovery process, enhance their educational and job opportunities, and address their specific reproductive health needs.

Disabilities among Refugees and Conflict-affected Populations

June 23, 2008

Around the world, an estimated 3.5 million displaced people live with disabilities in refugee camps and urban slum settlements. The Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, with the support of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, undertook a six-month research project to assess the situation of those with disabilities among refugee and conflict-affected populations. Using our field research in five countries, Ecuador, Jordan, Nepal, Thailand and Yemen, the Women's Commission sought to map existing services for displaced persons with disabilities, identify gaps and good practices and make concrete recommendations on how to improve services, protection and participation for displaced persons with disabilities.Key Findings- Refugees with disabilities are among the most hidden, neglected and socially excluded of all displaced people in the world.- They are excluded from or unable to access mainstream assistance programs as a result of attitudinal, physical and social barriers and are forgotten in the establishment of specialized and targeted services.- Refugees with disabilities are more isolated following their displacement than they were in their home communities and their potential to contribute and participate is seldom recognized.

Redefining Manhood, Rebuilding Nations: How Men Can Empower Women to Lift Post-Conflict Communities

August 2, 2007

As Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan asserts, "[T]here is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women." However, the involvement of men and boys is vital to achieving the rights of women and girls.Men and boys must be an active, engaged part of the solution. As violence against women has become epidemic, and with the increasing feminization of poverty, migration and HIV/AIDS, it is vital to reinvigorate the fight for gender equality. No longer is gender equality simply a women's right issue. It is a crucial social justice issue necessary for the longer-term well-being of humankind and the planet.Women are disenfranchised, economically excluded and disempowered in many parts of the world:Women and girls make up 70% of the 1.3 billion people worldwide living in extreme poverty (those living on less than $1 per day).33% of women globally are homeless or live in inadequate dwellings, such as slums.Women work 66% of the world's working hours and in most developing countries produce 60 - 80% of the food1 but only own 1% of land and hold only 14% of parliamentary seats.2As a result of their disenfranchisement, women have less access to education at all levels and fewer economic opportunities. Women's work is generally less prestigious, less desirable and less well paid. Women have less voice in household and community decisions. They are given fewer opportunities to participate in leadership positions. As a result, women are more vulnerable to exploitation and have fewer options available to them. Often economically dependent on spouses and partners, they are unable to leave abusive relationships.Men, on the other hand, are advantaged, purely on the basis of being born male because masculinity is equated with power, access, resources, differential treatment and preferential opportunities.Gender equality:increases families' income;is required for the eradication of poverty and the reduction of HIV/AIDS;leads to sustainable development;enhances the education and health of all family members.

The U.S. Response to Human Trafficking: An Unbalanced Approach

May 1, 2007

The United States' anti-trafficking efforts formally began with the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000. Since then, the U.S. Government has poured billions of dollars into prevention efforts overseas and prosecution and protection efforts at home. In many ways it provides a model to other countries that are trying to address human trafficking. This report is focused on the United States' efforts to protect trafficked persons found in the United States. Under the TVPA, protections, services and benefits are only offered to trafficked persons who are witnesses assisting law enforcement. This system presents its own challenges in accessing benefits and services, particularly due to law enforcement's anipulation of the system. This is not a case of unforeseen implementation struggles that can be fixed. Instead, at issue is the entire conceptual framework of trafficking as a law enforcement issue and only a law enforcement issue. The results of six years of this approach are becoming startlingly clear -- few trafficked persons coming forward to work with law enforcement. Those who are discovered by law enforcement but refuse or are unable to recount their experiences are not offered any protections and are instead deported. This is an acute problem in particular for trafficked children. The Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children (Women's Commission) believes that this is an unbalanced approach and that the consequences are grave. While prosecuting traffickers is a just and necessary goal, it should not be accomplished at the expense of the trafficked person. Both objectives can be achieved successfully by adopting a rights-based approach, which entails providing protections to all trafficked persons. It is increasingly acknowledged and recognized even among law enforcement officials that a trafficked person who receives assistance is more likely, willing and able to work with law enforcement. Another issue throwing trafficking protections off balance is the United States' policy which focuses government trafficking efforts on eradicating prostitution, which it conflates with sex trafficking. Efforts at addressing contributing factors to trafficking are laudable but should not be pursued to the exclusion of other efforts. There is a need for immigration and labor reform that would yield dramatic results in protections for trafficked and exploited persons in the informal economy.