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 hit 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. Next March, during the 60th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW60), the EWL, together with its members, will raise awareness on the protection risks faced by women and girls, based on its joint statement to CSW. 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 FEMM report on women and girls refugees 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 two reports, based on assessment trips in Greece and Macedonia (November 2015, together with UNHCR and UNFPA) and Slovenia and Serbia (December 2015). In both 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. The WRC is going to Sweden and Germany in February 2016, to assess the situation of women and girls seeking asylum, and meet with front-line and women’s organisations.
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.