IWD Spotlight: Refugee Women Share their Stories at WILPF UK Seminar
Leading up to International Women’s Day on March 8, WILPF will be publishing a series of articles spotlighting some of the efforts of our member groups to create a more sustainable, peaceful future for women around the world. Follow these publications and support International Women’s Day by sharing with the hashtag #IWD2018.
Detailing their painful experiences with domestic violence, racism, isolation, homelessness, lack of documentation, and imprisonment, ten refugee women captivated the attention of those attending WILPF UK’s Autumn Seminar with searing descriptions of their journeys to find safety in the UK.
The annual seminar, themed “Voices of Refugee Women,” was run by WILPF UK in an effort to “show solidarity with refugee women and raise awareness of what life is really like for refugee women in the UK,” as described on their website. Though each testimony of the refugee speakers was unique and irreplaceable, the common threads between the women’s stories were twofold.
First, most were subjected to extreme duress in the asylum countries in which they expected to find refuge and safety. Second, without exception, every refugee woman displayed astonishing strength in the face of adversity. These women, some of whom live in the shadows to avoid deportation, are truly formidable. But their personal resiliency does not mean that they can live indefinitely in these conditions.
For International Women’s Day, it is imperative that we support the women not just in whose stories we see our own reflected, but the women whose histories we cannot imagine for ourselves. Refugee women must live in a state of suspension and displacement that is difficult to empathise with. In that effort, we invite you to read about their stories and understand the barriers they face in resettlement.
The ten women who spoke presented on the following subjects: The legal process of assimilation, homelessness, absence of documentation, imprisonment, racism and domestic violence, political dissidence, kidnapping, isolation, and finally the importance of campaigning for refugee rights.
As a result of the seminar, WILPF UK published a booklet on the stories shared by the speakers. You can read the testimonies of Sarah, who fled her husband and domestic violence Uganda, but was subjected to further abuse by her extended family members in the UK; Renee, who escaped escalating conflict in Germany in 1939; and Elizabeth, who was trafficked from Ghana into the UK for forced prostitution and was left suspended, paperless for three years until the government “made up their minds” about her status.
Over eighty people attended the seminar, which along with the refugee women speakers included a choral rendition and presentations from authors and allies. The event was truly a diverse gathering: representatives from refugee support organisations provided support and organised speakers, and women of all ages and backgrounds gathered to lend an ear.
The final consequence of the seminar was a profound appreciation of those in attendance for the gravity and complexity of the condition of the refugee. Ultimately the lobby for refugee rights is crucial to alleviating pressure on refugees, particularly women, who are disproportionately vulnerable to the crisis. WILPF UK’s seminar was a demonstration of solidarity and support for the refugee women of the UK. Their efforts can be replicated in your community as well. For International Women’s Day, you can learn more about the refugee crisis by following up on the event on the WILPF UK website.