A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. But imagine if that journey uprooted you from the only home you ever knew. Imagine if violence at home forced you to flee to a neighboring country. And, if you were among the 1 percent of refugees lucky enough to qualify for resettlement, imagine building a life in your adopted homeland – especially given the febrile, anti-refugee atmosphere in many receiving countries. Sadly, this type of journey is more common today than at any time in history, with 65 million people currently displaced by violence and upheaval.
The journey for women and girls fleeing violence and conflict is especially perilous, with rape, abduction and brutality being all too commonplace. Less common is the access to medical facilities and educational opportunities that women and child refugees desperately need. Given that women and children comprise 75 percent of those displaced by conflict and disaster, if ever there was a time to shine a light on this topic, it is today, International Women’s Day.
But there is hope. At the International Rescue Committee, we have witnessed first-hand what a difference dedicated resources, safe spaces, and services can mean to survivors of violence, whether in our overseas programs or at home in the US. For many survivors, the support they receive marks the first time that they can envision not only recovering from unspeakable violence, but becoming powerful and resilient people in their own right.
Sadly, though, today’s political rhetoric in America speaks to isolation and retreat, walled-off borders and closed-off minds. Services for refugees and the victims of violence face major cuts. Pausing America’s refugee admissions program harms the very people who need our protection and support. Last year, over 72 percent of the 85,000 refugees resettled in the US were women and children. Many are single mothers and survivors of gender-based violence. These are not terrorists who aim to do our country harm. They are people escaping tyranny and insecurity.
The potential budget cuts to the State Department, USAID and the United Nations will almost certainly mean fewer women and girls overseas will receive critical life-saving medical attention for sexual assault and violence. It will also mean fewer safe spaces for them to receive trauma counseling and other crucial support.
These cuts are not just a measure of the government’s bottom line; they are a measure of our moral standing and commitment to the most marginalized among us.
All along their journey from displacement to resettlement, violence and insecurity stands in the way of women’s and girls’ right to safety, health, education, and economic wellbeing. As a nation built on the promise of welcoming the poor, the tired, and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, it is up to us to ensure that refugee women and girls receive the support they need from the very first step of their journey.