The debilitating economies of underdeveloped countries, crippling third world debt crisis, terrorism and the ravages of war define the world we live in. A staggering 51.2 million people worldwide have become casualties of conflict and persecution, and are currently living under the worst conditions imaginable. Of this huge number of people, almost 80 percent comprise women, children and adolescents, with about 26 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). Disturbingly, the “weaker” female gender living in crisis situations stand at a highly disadvantaged position due to their susceptibility to sexual or gender-based violence as well as minimal access to assistance in terms of livelihood, healthcare and education.

However, there has been growing recognition and attention on improving the quality of lives of refugees as well as internally displaced women, thereby quickening the pace of sustainable peace-building and development processes. That said, much still needs to be done.

Valentine M. Moghadam puts it in her article “Peace-building and reconstruction with women: reflection on Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine”– a woman’s reality in conflict-affected areas clearly illustrates the “hegemonic masculinity of political actors” result in extreme forms of repression, poverty, harassment, all of which stem from illiteracy and barring women’s access to schooling.

 A woman’s reality in conflict-affected areas clearly illustrates the “hegemonic masculinity of political actors” result in extreme forms of repression, poverty, harassment, all of which stem from illiteracy and barring women’s access to schooling.

According to a concept paper presented at the Security Council Open Debate on “Women, Peace and Security – Displaced Women and Girls: Leaders and Survivors” in October 2014, “There is now a broad consensus that a peace process that does not include women is a faulty process; there is widespread outrage about the heinous crimes committed against women and girls in conflict-affected settings and strong determination to eliminate sexual violence and secure justice for all human rights violations experienced by women and girls. There is also growing recognition that women’s economic, cultural, political and social autonomy is a linchpin for a life free of violence, and that women’s empowerment is a key ingredient for democracy, stability and lasting peace. Yet, there are many miles to go to affect real and sustained change with regard to outcomes and results on the ground. The past year has been marked by increased violence, mass displacement flows and related humanitarian catastrophes. Women and children, particularly girls, have been affected by newly emerging violence. All of these developments have had a detrimental impact on progress and results achieved on peace, security, reconciliation and stability overall.”

Besides focusing on the fundamentals of life such as protection from violence, healthcare, food and nutrition, etc., the possibility of the sustainable economic emancipation of women in crisis areas rests on understanding the implications of education and, consequently, their inclusion in positive development activities.

According to Dr. Feras Hamza, Associate Professor and Program Director of International Studies at the University of Wollongong Dubai UAE, “I think generally, one should bear in mind two things; one, the constraints that organizations such as UNHCR might face regionally, in terms of countries adopting certain mandates and hence recognizing individuals as ‘refugees’ with all that this would entail in terms of legal protection that would normally be due to them (MENA is not the EU!); two, the issue of women in general. There is a double challenge here in this region: the recognition of ‘women’, and then the recognition of ‘the refugee’.”

Refugee_women_in_ChadAgreeing with Dr. Hamza and talking about education and how it can be encouraged among refugees and internally displaced women, Dr. Laura Voda, Adjunct Professor at the University of Wollongong, Dubai, UAE, says, “The most stringent problem that refugee populations are facing nowadays is status determination. Whereas the 1951 Geneva Convention and 1967 Additional Protocol define the legal concept of ‘refugee’, the status determination is highly dependent on the domestic procedures in the host state. As such and in order to offer a broader view on the complexity of the problem, we should include displaced populations, as well as stateless individuals. De facto, they face the same types of problems. In regards to MENA, the distribution of powers, legislative systems, security of political systems and of the social apparatus in general is heterogeneous in the region. In addition, most of these countries have not ratified the multilateral treaties on human rights or similar legal instruments, which makes determination, as well as its related legal protection, more difficult to achieve and more costly. Some areas, for instance, are so remote that the whole societal structure needs to be built from scratch (e.g. South Sudan).”

Adding, she remarks, “The approach in this case should be structural in the MENA region, as some areas in here face real humanitarian crises. A more ‘muscular’ form of action on the part of the international community (at the intergovernmental level, UN) in order to grant and secure humanitarian access, would be beneficial. In addition, the network of donors should be well-established in order to facilitate the assessment, training and staffing needed. In general, refugee camps have one instructor for around 70 individuals, which is not enough. From the legal/policy perspective, the humanitarian path remains the most appropriate, I believe. On the other hand, applying a set of lessons learned from relevant precedents, establishing local focal points for gender issues and education, establishing community services in order to facilitate the contact and, eventually, the integration of refugees into local schools would be beneficial. Last but not least, establishing partnerships with the local governments in areas such as immigration, grant of asylum, compliance with the non-refoulement standards, access to school, access to facilities – financial and logistical – pre and post the educational process… It is to be reemphasized that only a concerted action in the international community (with a higher level of support on the part of the developed states) would lead to palpable results.”

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