Ethiopia: JRS draws attention to the plight of women and girls
10 March 2010

Refugee women in Addis Ababa. Action is needed to erase brutality, scorn, shame and fear from their lives. (Peter Balleis SJ/JRS)
“From our experience we know that there is always a way forward for refugee women, that change is possible, no matter how hard it seems.”

Addis Ababa, 10 March 2010 — More than 350 refugees gathered under the theme “Equal rights, equal opportunities: Progress for all” at the JRS Refugee Community Centre in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 10, and draw attention to the plight of women.

“This year’s theme reminds us of the need to continue to improve the situation of underprivileged women and to end the social deprivation many women are facing,” Meron Mengesha, representative of JRS, said in her welcoming speech. “International Womens’ Day is an opportunity to look at what has been accomplished so far, but also to plan ahead in order to achieve that women’s’ rights are fully respected,” she added.

“Above all, we need actions that help erase brutality, scorn, shame and fear from women’s lives,” she continued. “From our experience we know that there is always a way forward for refugee women, that change is possible, no matter how hard it seems.”

As part of the opening ceremony, a representative of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) delivered a message of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres. As the message stressed, nearly half of the people uprooted by conflict are women and girls who are subjected to sexual violence during all stages of displacement. “The history of International Women’s Day is a history of struggle of women for their basic rights, equality and empowerment. Let us continue this tradition of celebrating it,” Lisa Quarshie, UNHCR Associate Protection Officer, said at the end of her speech.

Also addressing the audience, Njoki Kinyanjui of the UN population agency (UNFPA) called on those present to honour the resilience of women survivors of war and conflict. “As long as there is widespread violence against women and girls and impunity for these crimes, as long as millions of girls are forced to marry as child brides, as long as one woman dies needlessly each minute from pregnancy and childbirth complications, we need to stand up for equal treatment and opportunity,” she quoted from the UNFPA Executive Director’s message.

As the master of ceremony, Nyakouth Gai, a Sudanese refugee girl currently studying at the University of Addis Ababa, guided through the programme. Accompanied by contemporary songs and dances, a Sudanese woman, mother of seven children told her story, giving listeners an idea of the difficulties she went through and the perseverance she had. Examples of women who could serve as role models and a role-play, reflecting the various roles of women in society as well as games, poems and dances were presented. At the end of the day food from different countries was served.

The celebration was attended by refugees of all ages, invited guest from the UNHCR Regional Liaison Office, UNFPA, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Development and Inter-Church Aid Commission’s Refugee and Returnee Affairs Department (EOC-DICAC/RRAD) as well as JRS staff.

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