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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration > What We Are Saying > Fact Sheets and Newsletters > 2004
Fact Sheet
Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
Washington, DC
January 26, 2004

Refugee Women, FY 2003

The majority of refugees and displaced persons in the world today are women and children. From Afghanistan to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (D.R.C.), from Burma to Liberia, women have fled and continue to flee war and repression, often leaving behind fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers who are fighting; who are in jails; or who have perished. Refugee women are often single-handedly responsible for the survival of their children even when their own survival is at stake. Every day provides challenges: finding cooking fuel, carrying water -- often for miles -- obtaining sufficient food at distribution sites, and obtaining access to primary health care for themselves and their families. Refugee women are also exposed to violence at every stage in their flight. Sexual violence and exploitation are two of the most terrible dangers confronting refugee women and girls today.

The United States recognizes the dire and distinct needs of refugee women, but also the unique resources they bring to their families and communities. Through the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), the U.S. Government has been a leader in supporting programs on their behalf. The policy goals that help to shape PRM’s emphasis on refugee women include several broad areas of concern such as protection, standards of care, education for girls, and the promotion of the participation of refugee women in camp management and food distribution. In addition, PRM has developed policies that address violence against women, sexual exploitation, trafficking in persons, empowerment and control in decision-making, and fostering gender awareness in political life.

Protection and Assistance

PRM has urged the broadest possible implementation of UNHCR’s Guidelines on the Protection of Refugee Women in international organizations, their implementing partners, and U.S.Government-funded agencies. PRM funded and participated in an assessment by the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children to evaluate UNHCR’s programs for the protection and care of refugee women http://www.womenscommission.org/pdf/unhcr.pdf. On May 8, 2003, UNHCR provided its response to that assessment and actions planned. These actions include the development of indicators to measure progress on the implementation of the High Commissioner’s five commitments to refugee women, including specific indicators to measure gender-based violence (GBV) prevention, and response, involvement of men in prevention and protection activities, significant training of UNHCR and partner staff on GBV, and a formal commitment of staff time to gender issues.

2003 was marked by considerable activity on issues affecting refugee women, including:

  • The InterAgency Standing Committee (IASC) Task Force on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Humanitarian Crises has drawn up six core principles which are now the yardstick for all humanitarian workers (http://www.reliefweb.int/idp/docs/references/protsexexpPoARep.pdf).

  • UNHCR has finished the development of a Code of Conduct (http://www.unhcr.md/article/co_con.htm) and has undertaken workshops and sensitization both for its staff, its implementing partners, and refugees themselves.

  • PRM has added the requirement of a code of conduct for agencies with which it has cooperative agreements (http://www.state.gov/g/prm/rls/fs/2004/28158.htm).

  • The General Accounting Office (GAO) issued its report, Protecting Women and Girls Remains a Significant Challenge, May 2003 (http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d03663.pdf).

  • UNHCR continues to work towards fulfilling the High Commissioner‘s five commitments to refugee women pledged in 2002: 1) the involvement of women in camp management and leadership activities, 2) individual registration of all refugee women, 3) prevention of and response to sexual and gender-based violence, 4) an active role for women in camp food distribution systems, and 5) universal distribution of sanitary materials.

  • UNHCR’s EXCOM adopted the Conclusion on Protection from Sexual Abuse and Exploitation in September 2003, which focused explicitly on refugee women and girls.

FY 2003 – PRM Programs and Funding

PRM’s objectives are to ensure that refugee women participate equitably in decision-making in all areas of refugee life and that protection and gender-sensitive approaches are applied at every stage of program development and implementation.

To achieve this, PRM works through a number of international and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). While almost all of the efforts funded by PRM benefit refugee women, since they and refugee children make up the vast majority of refugees, targeted assistance is still needed. Some examples include:

  • In Africa, PRM earmarked almost $9 million for programs in support of refugee women. Activities included but were not limited to women’s income generation projects, maternal and child health care, education, and programs to prevent and respond to gender-based violence.

  • PRM has also taken an active role in funding about $3.6 million for protection and assistance for refugee, returnee, and internally displaced women in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Activities included income generation projects, literacy training, and primary and preventative health care (with an emphasis on maternal and child health).

PRM also provided over $4 million for Special Initiatives for refugee women. Contributions included:

  • $1,225,000 to UNHCR:
    • $175,000 (Global Operations)
    • $500,000 (Africa)
    • $300,000 (sanitary materials)
    • $250,000 (GBV, included in GBV fact sheet)

  • UNHCR places high priority on the protection of refugee women and seeks to provide rapid solutions through identification of those women who are at extreme risk of violence and without family protection. At times, the only way of protecting them is through resettlement to a safe third country. The United States actively participates in resettling those identified by UNHCR as women-at-risk.

  • PRM provided $1 million to the ICRC’s Women and War project, which funded programs and conducted assessment missions with the goal of identifying the general and specific protection, health, and assistance needs of women in armed conflict. FY2003 completed the USG’s 4-year pledge to the program.

  • $2,028,014 to NGO and International Organization projects that targeted GBV prevention and response activities (http://www.state.gov/g/prm/rls/fs/2004/27819.htm).

  • PRM works on global efforts to eliminate trafficking in persons, and funds anti-trafficking programs worldwide. In addition to a general contribution to IOM, PRM funds a number of regional migration dialogues, such as the Migration Dialogue for Southern Africa and the Regional Conference on Migration.

PRM continues to be active in promoting reproductive health care for refugees and displaced persons. PRM participates in the Inter-Agency Working Group (IAWG) on Refugee Reproductive Health, which has established guidelines and policies to meet the reproductive health needs of refugees. PRM works with USAID and other U.S. Government agencies to help people worldwide achieve healthy families of the size they desire by promoting voluntary, fully informed decision-making and methods that respect human rights and do not involve abortion. The Bureau is committed to promoting the rights of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, timing, and spacing of their children, as well as the prevention and spread of STIs, including HIV/AIDS; the reduction of infant and maternal mortality; the promotion of universal education and the narrowing of educational gaps between boys and girls; and the increased participation of males in reproductive health and child rearing.


In the coming year, PRM plans to focus its efforts on promoting the involvement of women and girls in camp management and food distribution activities, on continuing to lead efforts to prevent GBV and sexual exploitation, and on pushing for an increased focus on protection, especially through UNHCR including through filling UNHCR protection positions and following closely the development of the overhaul of the Senior Coordinator positions for Refugee Women and Refugee Children.

As has been stated in numerous discussions, the international community must fulfill its obligations to share responsibility for the protection of refugee women and children. Immediate and directed responses by the international community are key toward better protection of these groups. PRM intends to continue its strong commitment to refugee women and children.

For more information, please contact Nicole Gaertner at (202) 663-1481 or at gaertnernr@state.gov.

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