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Education for girls and women refugees

People have always fled across borders to avoid conflict and natural disaster. However, the last two years have seen an unprecedented rise in the number of refugees from various conflicts and areas of instability in the world. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), in 2014 there were 60 million refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs). A global debate has opened on the various responsibilities of states to provide for refugees. Graduate Women International (GWI) believes strongly in the human right to education, for girls and women as much as for boys and men. As an enabler of other rights education is as crucial during times of crisis as during times of peace.

In these situations of displacement, children and young people do not benefit from their internally established right to basic education. As schools close, they are exposed to greater risks of early marriage, labour exploitation, sexual abuse and may be recruited into armed groups (UNHCR, 2015). Globally, about 58 million children of primary school age are out of school missing out not only on their education but the prospect of a better future. Half of these live in conflict and crisis-affected areas (EFA Global Monitoring Report [GMR], 2015). A child living in a conflict-affected developing country is nearly three times as likely to be out of school as a child living in another developing country (World Bank, World Development Report, 2011).

Education is critical for all children, and especially urgent for young girls affected by conflict, disasters and displacement. According to UNHCR, only one in four refugee children is estimated to be in secondary school and just one percent of young refugees are enrolled in tertiary education. Providing education in emergencies not only ensures that children realise their right to education, it provides them with a sense of hope and normalcy when their lives have been severely disrupted, and promotes their psychological and social well-being (UNHCR, 1994).

The devastating human rights impact experienced by girls who suffer violations of their rights to, and within, education as a result of violent attacks illustrates the key role education plays through empowering right holders to access a wide range of other human rights. It is apparent that violations of the right to education will have far-reaching, negative consequences for girls and for the women they will become, as well as for the communities and nations where they live. The Right to Safe Access to Education for All Girls and Women embodies the need for girls to receive an education on the same basis as boys (OHCHR, 2015).

Girl and women refugees are more likely to be discriminated against when it comes to education during times of displacement or crisis, and the additional needs of caring for the family are more likely to fall to them, “when catastrophe strikes - whether in the form of illness or conflict, displacement or hardship - women and girls, from 65 to five years old, are more likely to shoulder the burden of keeping family and household together” (Kofi Annan in the film ‘To Educate a Girl’, 2010). This has consequences on their ability to support themselves and contribute economically when the crisis has passed, further disempowering them.

Education is the key to a secure and sustainable future for refugees and their communities. Resuming education quickly minimises interruption to learning, helps boost morale amongst children and parents, establishes communication channels for other services such as health and assists with reintegration.It also provides access to other human rights. The benefits of girls’ education also extends to their children who are often healthier and more educated because their mothers went to school (UNICEF, 2015).

The Sustainable Development Goal #4 “To ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and life-long learning opportunities for all by 2030” and the 2015 Incheon Declaration commit to developing more inclusive and responsive education systems to meet the needs of children, youth and adults affected by conflict and crisis. In order to ensure that migrant children receive the education and care they need, GWI recommends that governments, supported by intergovernmental agencies and monitored by civil society should fully implement the International legislation for refugees. GWI affirms and emphasises the right to education as a standalone international human right and an enabler of numerous other human rights, which must be promoted, protected and provided to all people without discrimination. Education is a catalyst for multisector socio-economic progress including, fostering fiscal growth, combatting poverty, eradicating illiteracy and promoting tolerance and peace.

Historically, GWI has a philanthropic involvement with refugee women. GWI’s Hegg Hoffet Fund for Displaced Women Graduates assists graduate women and tertiary women students who have been displaced as a result of war and other serious emergencies. Many of these women are fleeing gender-related atrocities in their home countries, such as rape, honour crimes, forced marriage and female mutilation. The Hegg Hoffet Fund helps registered refugee women to continue their professional work by paying for upgrade or language courses in their new country. For more information see our website:

Lorraine Mangwiro, Graduate Women International

Girl Power
Human Rights
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