Mahama Refugee Camp | 9 March 2017 – The Government of Rwanda and the UN Refugee Agency – (UNHCR) joined the international community to celebrate International Women Day with a particular focus on the right of women refugees to work highlighted through the inauguration of a new Women’s Opportunity Center constructed by UNHCR. The event in Mahama was hosted by the UNHCR Representative and the Minister of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDIMAR) and included the Minister of Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion and members of the diplomatic community included the Ambassadors of the Netherlands and Egypt. Key features of the visit included the opening of the Center and performances by refugees including dance and poetry.
Mahama Refugee Camp opened in April 2015 following the sudden mass influx of Burundian refugees and today it is home to 53,000 women, men, girls and boys. UNHCR and MIDIMAR led an emergency response that succeeded in meeting refugees’ most immediate needs, but the focus today was on refugees’—and in particular women refugees’—self-reliance. The Women’s Opportunity Center is one element in a larger Government-UNHCR strategy that aims over the course of the next five years to empower refugees to stand on their own two feet rather than depending on humanitarian assistance.
Jacqueline Murorunkwere is the social affairs representative of refugees in Mahama refugee camp. She says that in addition to promoting livelihoods, the center will also enhance mutual partnership and cooperation between stakeholders to prevent sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in the camp.
“Because of their gender, refugee women are often victims of violence and discrimination. This new facility constructed by UNHCR contribute to refugees supporting each other to resolve their problems, strengthen their resilience and become self-reliant, as well as preventing SGBV in households.”
International Women’s Day is a global celebration of in Rwanda, “this is “A day to raise awareness and hope in difficult situations refugee women often face, but also to offer them an opportunity to do something for themselves, for their families, for their communities, and even their country of asylum, by earning livelihoods and becoming more self-sufficient.”
Female refugees may sometimes face vulnerabilities, but Azam noted that “they are also worthy citizens of the world, and nothing should stop them from dreaming big, participating in building peace in the camp but also for the future when they shall have returned to their country.” He continued: “This opportunity centre is among the best things we can do to support refugee women in the camp, which is also critical to building gender equality among the community.”
A mother of 3 children, Jacqueline is 32 years old and was elected as a refugee leader in Mahama camp. She says that even if life is not easy for women refugees in Mahama, this event was a reminder to them that even as a refugee it is possible to develop oneself, earn livelihoods, and make life worth living.
“Refugee women in Mahama, in addition to their own well-being, are responsible for others. Women are overwhelmingly the primary caretakers of children in their families in the camp, and they often take on major responsibility for providing a livelihoods for their families as well,” she says. In the new center, women working in cooperatives are paid fair compensation for producing high quality, modern design handicrafts which are exported and marketed in the United States, as well as school uniforms and other items needed in the camp. Through such market-based livelihoods initiatives, refugees are empowered to contribute not only to the economy of the refugee camp, but also to the development of Rwanda and its economy.
“Today we were reminded that nothing should stop us from aiming higher in life. Personally, nothing will prohibit me from developing my family, the country that is hosting me, and participating in searching for peace in Burundi.”
The Mahama Women’s and Girls’ Opportunity Centre was built in partnership with the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BPRM), through the joint PRM-UNHCR Safe from the Start initiative which aims to ensure innovative approaches to preventing and responding to SGBV in refugee emergencies.