arunima dutta
Posted August 14, 2012 from India

On JUNE 30, 2012 We hosted a Gender Roundtable event called “NECKLACE OF TEARS". Five speakers discussed the widely overlooked dangers (such as rape and banditry) that threaten refugees in our region. Women and adolescent girls are particularly at risk , where refugee camps often lack the amount of security and food rationing necessary for a safe living environment.I moderated the panel. I kicked off the conversation with a slideshow depicting life in refugee camps, including the registration process, the various types of shelters, and the hospital wards. One image was of Jankee, a 25 year-old woman who was sexually assaulted on her way to the camp. The next photo was of another woman, Geetika who had to abandon her life as a farmer in search of a more substantial income. Later, she was forced to leave her new job when her employer could no longer afford to pay her. By the time she reached the refugee camp, she was only eating one meal a week. It should be noted that simply entering a camp does not solve refugees’ problems, it’s often just the beginning of them. Food is allotted every fifteen days, but it only lasts for six or seven days. We surveyed that food is usually accessible but making it last is extremely difficult. Finding firewood with which to cook food is another problem that women in refugee camps face.. In fact, the panelists emphasized that this is one of the most dangerous tasks a woman refugee can perform, since it requires them to enter the camp’s surrounding woods by themselves and risk being raped, assaulted or harassed by territorial host communities. One of her most haunting memories was watching women register in the camp, get food, then try to make their way to their shelters while two hundred surrounding men watched and waited. Often, women’s food is stolen from them before they can distribute it to their own children. As dangerous as it is inside the formal government camps, the security situation in the outlying camps is even more unsettling. These camps, usually run by militias, are crowded, unsanitary, and without rations. While the formal camps offer some access to education (and even then, there are eleven teachers per 2,000 students), there are no schools in the outer camps. A lack of education is a lack of protection for children, who also face diseases like measles, for which they have not been vaccinated. Women’s and girls’ health is especially at risk, due to gender-based violence, female genital mutilation, child marriage, and pregnancy. I feel accountability for funding also needs to be monitored with more regularity. It’s far too easy, the panel concluded, for organizations receiving assistance to “check the box” saying they’ve addressed the necessary safety issues without having to explain exactly what they’ve done to make sure their practices match their claims. Many people are often afraid to donate to unstable regions because there’s no way to know if the money will ever get to those it’s intended for. Unfortunately, none of these challenges get the amount of attention they deserve, because they’re not seen as “new” by the media. The crises are slow moving, and there hasn’t been one outstanding event to draw rest of the world’s attention. I feel many of the challenges women and girls face in my region can be solved simply, if people would take the time to act on them. For instance, providing rape whistles and flashlights to protect each other. This type of empowerment is crucial for women and girls, who often benefit from peer counseling. Women must not be labeled as victims, the panelists agreed, but as protectors of other women.. We never know how high we are Till we are called to rise; And then, if we are true to plan, Our statures touch the skies. ~ Emily Dickinson ~

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