March is Women’s History Month and March 8 is International Women’s Day. During March, we mark the global progress women and girls have made, evaluate challenges and barriers to that progress, and re-dedicate ourselves to a world where everyone has equal opportunity to succeed and to contribute. We celebrate the multitude of achievements of those who have come before us, both famous and not so, and who have had an impact on our world. The month of March asks us to learn our history, meet those who have shaped our opportunities, and understand where we are in the long game of women’s equality.
Every year, March helps us focus our commitment. It’s a busy time, with events, panels, conferences, and receptions. But for many woman and girls across the globe, particularly those who are displaced from their homes, March 8 is just another day and March is just another month.
I just returned from the Summit on Forcible Displacement and Gender in South Asia hosted by the Women’s Regional Network and held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This Summit brought together women and men from South Asia, and across the globe, to uplift the voices and experiences of displaced women and girls and to highlight the urgent need for action. The Summit delegates were activists and thought leaders from non-governmental organizations, academia, multilateral organizations, and think tanks. Many were from countries currently experiencing displacement and struggling to ensure that women’s voices are heard.
Globally, the data is stark. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), an unprecedented 68.5 million people have been forced from their homes. The majority are women and children. Among them are 40 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and over 25 million refugees. Over half of the refugees are under 18. One person is forcibly displaced every two seconds as a result of conflict or persecution. But displacement also occurs because of development, climate related crises, and natural disaster.
It was a sobering three days of rich discussion and calls for action.
My five key takeaways were:
- Global leaders must redouble their efforts to prevent conflict and other causes of displacement. This critical situation must be addressed at every level: global, national and local. There must be a commitment to preventing the next event that drives displacement and a frame work for responding to displacement, no matter the trigger.
- Women must be heard. As has been said many times, “nothing about her without her.” Women and girls who have been displaced must be equal participants in every decision that is made regarding their futures. Governments, global organizations, and civil society must ensure that women refugees and IDPs fully participate in decisions about their lives.
- Legal frameworks must be strengthened and implemented. Strong legal frameworks addressing the issues faced by displaced people, particularly women and girls, and equal implementation of those frameworks, are foundational. Relevant international treaties, laws, and guidelines must be fully implemented. Countries that don’t have these legal frameworks must develop, adopt, and implement them.
- Humanitarian, security and political concerns are intertwined and must all be addressed. There needs to be a humanitarian, security, and political response to each crisis based in large part on an understanding of the fundamental rights, and needs, of refugees and IDPs. Humanitarian aid is a critical immediate response in any crisis. It must be accompanied by a focus on the human security needs of refugees and IDPs, and a fundamental commitment to a political and policy driven response to the factors leading to displacement.
- Accountability and a commitment to rule of law is critical. Refugees and IDPs are among those most vulnerable to acts of violence, including sexual and gender-based violence. Accountability and actions to address impunity at every stage of the displacement process, in particular for sexual and gender-based violence, must be a priority.
There is much work to do. Governments, global organizations, and civil society must ensure that women and girls are an integral part of every decision that affects their lives and engaged in the design of every policy and program that addresses their needs. As we celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, let’s commit to ensuring that these voices are heard.