Refugee women and girls are under-represented in positions of leadership and their participation in public life at local, national and global levels continues to be limited and not well documented. For example, women are still too often excluded from peace negotiations, peace-building or conflict resolution discussions. Most often refugee women’s voices and influence are constrained as a result of discriminatory social structures (patriarchy and gender hierarchies) that begin at a household level and flow on to how women and girls are able to fully and actively organize, engage and speak out in public life.
In order to promote the full and active participation of refugee women and girls in all their diversity, greater support must be given to refugee women’s leadership opportunities to enhance their representation in decision-making at all levels and to actively break down barriers to participation. This requires investing resources in education, skills development and mentorship of refugee women and girls to realize their full potential as leaders. It also requires the supported inclusion of refugee women and girls in the planning, design and implementation of programs and policy. This includes actively increasing and investing in women’s participation in conflict prevention, peace-building, and conflict resolution processes such as outlined in the Women, Peace and Security agenda.
There are still so many institutions and international processes that still don’t include refugee women leaders into their work, or their budgets. From APNOR’s own experience and exposure to the sector, Refugee women have demonstrating a great capacity to problem solve and to be resilient – particularly around issues of migration and integration:
CSW space is definitely an important platform where APNOR look in to the international leaders and stakeholders to look for ways to facilitate access for refugee women to have influence on decision-making, and in turn, for organizations to be exposed to greater diversity. For it is this diversity that gives us opportunities to listen and learn from other people with different perspectives and knowledge: to share views and expertise and enhance richer and more considered decisions.
At APNOR we have done this by increasing refugee representation through dialogues, conference, especially within leadership and governance structures, and by building mechanisms for external engagement that transfer power and ownership. APNOR hopes that CSW opens up space for international NGOs, governments to critically self-reflect and enact change that dismantles power dynamics. What APNOR mean by this, is that we must identify and change internal practices that ensure engagement is safe, productive, and possible for refugee women. To have the greatest impact on system change, leaders first must redefine their organization’s internal systems and supports. In order to empower refugee participants to influence, and especially, to encourage refugee women to participate in enriching conversations or debate on the ‘matters that matter most’ to them, an organization must enhance its understanding by taking a diversity-sensitive approach.
This approach much be embedded into the organization’s strategy via targeted programming as well as secure funding is to ensure sustainability. At APNOR, any response or action that we instigate relating to refugee women, is done through a process that consults, informs and engages. Today’s institutions need to tap diverse, emotionally intelligent, problem solvers who can take risks, and make decisions with minimal information – often while operating in complex environments.
The inclusion of refugees in society is paramount and is the only way to deal with and respond effectively to social problems. To be successful we must work together with all members, structures, and institutions in our society including our newest members.
Asia Pacific Network of Refugees (APNOR) is the only region-wide refugee-led network of refugee-led initiatives in the Asia Pacific region that is working with and for refugees. APNOR was established in 2018, on the recommendation of Asia Pacific Summit of Refugees (APSOR).