From Crisis to Solutions: 'Women and girl refugees have enormous capacity for resilience and are powerful agents of change' - UN Women

A few weeks ago I wrote a piece on the upcoming 6th annual conference of Giving Women, which took place in Geneva on October 6th.
Giving Women is a Geneva based network of women involved in philanthropy. Its aim is to build a community of informed philanthropists and to make a meaningful difference in the lives of girls and women in need globally. To this end over the last 6 years, Giving Women has organised a conference, which touches on important issues that affect the lives of girls and women living in underserved communities.
This year with the influx of Syrian refugees in to Europe, GW chose to address the effect that migration has on the lives of girls and women around the world.
Atalanti Moquette, the founder, commenced proceedings by stating that the purpose of the conference was to change the narrative, which has inspired, fear, hate and prejudice and to establish positive solutions for women and girl migrants.
Michael Moller, the Director-General of the UN in Geneva, spoke next. He referred to the recent UN summit on refugees and migrants held in New York and how all nations had agreed to take a much stronger stance in dealing with the issues. Tellingly, he pointed out that the current situation is 'peanuts' compared to what will happen in the future unless more effective action is taken. In addition to conflict, violence, and poverty, climate change will be an important instigator for mass migration, in the future.
Mr. Moller's view is that the crisis has been badly managed from the offset with a combination of anti-refugee sentiment arising from the media coverage as well as politicians dithering rather than taking a stand. He is further angered by his belief that many politicians throughout Europe have stoked the animosity towards refugees by precipitating elections before finding the right solutions. He also questions the vocal claim that this is the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War; reminding us that there were in fact larger numbers who migrated during the 70s and 80s. He powerfully pointed out that the so-called huge volume of refugees entering Europe actually constitute little more than 0.2% of the 500m strong population of the continent.
The next speaker was Ignacio Packer of Terre des Hommes, a leading Swiss child relief agency committed to improving the lives of vulnerable children around the world. He stressed, amongst other things, that it is critical for the authorities of the countries that refugees are relocated to, to create the necessary places for them to settle.
The opening plenary concluded with a panel discussion with speakers from UN organisations, NGOs and civil society. All the speakers reiterated the importance of giving vulnerable girls and women a voice. Melissa Fleming of the UNHCR echoed Michael Moller's comments pointing out that it is only now that refugees are coming in large numbers to the West that people realise that there are refugees in the world. When a member of the audience asked what we as a group can do, Brandee Butler of the C&A Foundation emphasised the importance of supporting grass roots organisations such as the ones represented at the conference
After a brief break, the participants had the choice of attending one of two smaller panel discussions. One represented the work of various associations and NGOs, who are working for the integration of girls and women migrants in Switzerland. The other panel made up of development workers and journalists from the field described what life was like for refugees on the ground.
On the integration panel, Véronique Thouvenot, of the Millenia Foundation spoke about the programme that is in place in Lausanne to help pregnant women who arrive in Switzerland, not speaking the language and without any family or friends to support them. As a result, midwives work to make sure that they receive information regarding their pregnancy in their native language. Another member, herself the daughter of immigrants to Sweden, talked about her work in Swiss schools, which resulted in the students creating a film documenting the stories of some refugees in Switzerland.
One of the most moving presentations was given by Annie Sparrow, a medical doctor who works in Syria. She described the horrors lived by families and particularly children still in Syria, whose access to health facilities is shrinking by the minute. Her plea was not to forget these people destroyed by this pointless conflict.
On a more positive note, Katy Migiro a journalist with the Thomson Reuters Foundation told of her trip to a camp in Kenya accompanying the education activist, and Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who received international attention following her miraculous survival in 2012 when she was barbarically shot when she was just 15. She described how excited the kids at the camp were, telling Malala how she had inspired them to pursue their ambitions.
Dr Grabska from the Graduate Institute described her findings on the reasons and motivations for the decisions taken by young adolescent girl migrants from Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Sudan. The outcome of her research was that migration offered these young girls an escape route from often violent and abusive situations. She emphasised how important it is not to see migrants as victims but rather as agents of their own destinies.
The closing plenary focused on what had been discussed throughout the afternoon and how things can move forward. The true scale of the crisis was laid bare by putting to bed misconceptions and scare-mongering myths largely invented by politicians and the media. There is no doubt that much needs to be done and changing people's attitudes towards the crisis is of utmost importance. It is a global issue and the situation will worsen in the coming years unless governments and the general public take the right course of action.
Additionally, there were many discussions on the solutions available to improve the lives of those refugees currently in the numerous refugee camps around Europe; particularly for helping women to feel safer. The conditions that some are forced to live in at present must be improved.
The unique quality of the Giving Women conference was in the diversity of both the audience and speakers. The animated discussions over a well-deserved glass of wine and food reflected the incredible opportunities for collaboration amongst the group. Working together, whatever the objectives are, always makes for stronger results and you certainly felt a general feeling of optimism coupled with the acceptance that much needs to be done.
I found Rebecca Eastmond of JP Morgan, one of Giving Women's main sponsors, summed things up very well by emphasising the fact that if everyone plays a small part, however small that is, when you add it all up that things really can change.
On a personal note, I was pleased to have the opportunity to attend such a worthwhile cause, which was a most beneficial experience. Seeing the work and progress that the organisation has achieved under Atalanti's leadership was uplifting, given the mainly negative coverage that the refugee crisis has brought. While I knew beforehand that more needs to be done, this and many other organisations are making concerted efforts to send out the message.