With the help of American actress Kristin Davis, star of Sex and the City, Australia for UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) launched its “I Will” social media campaign in February. The campaign supports the rights of refugee women, by bringing everyday people together on social media to talk about the often-taboo issues of sexual and gender-based violence against women and children refugees.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), sexual and gender-based violence is of immense concern. Fighting between the government and rebel groups have caused over 3 million people to flee their homes. Women in particular are the target of brutal sexually violent attacks; 350 sexual assaults are reported every week.
“The majority of incidents of sexual violence are perpetrated by armed groups and state forces. The widespread and opportunistic sexual violence and culture of impunity targets not only women, but also girls, boys and men, who already feel vulnerable as a result of their forced displacement.”
Australia for UNHCR
When talking to MiNDFOOD at the “I Will” launch Kristin Davis urges, “How we handle it (the refugee crisis) will change the future for good or bad”…“it is a huge number of people that are at risk and that are vulnerable and I feel we have to do our best to try to help them.”
Australia for UNHCR has been working with communities to fund the establishment of sexual violence prevention education programs in the DRC, along with orphanages, schools for children, vocational training for women, health clinics and psychological support for victims.
Sister Angelique, a Congolese nun and victim of sexual violence has supported more than 2,000 women through the community she has established, with Australia for UNHCR support. Together they have set up income-generating initiatives for the community, giving dignity and power back to women.
Australia for UNHCR National Director, Naomi Steer tells us that Australian donors have helped support numerous projects that have been transformative for the lives of refugees. Steer told us about a project set up recently at a camp on the Congolese Uganda border, the first ever computer centre built by UNHCR. The centre is a solar powered base for vocational training and allows displaced people to access sites like Refugees United, a website that helps reunite families who have been separated by war and disaster. Steer told the story of a young woman who told her that gaining access to the computer training had made her “feel more than a refugee”, she went on to say that she now felt “she was on an equal basis with anyone”.
Steer says it’s time to get “serious about peace and security”, “stabilising countries and peace building.” She explains, “UNHCR has quite a strong role in that, when people return. Not just leaving them (returning refugees) there but providing jobs, education and strengthening rule of law.”
Every program run globally by the UNHCR is running underfunded, according to Steer. She says that Australian donors through the private sector are filling those gaps and allowing Australia for UNHCR to run vital programs that help stabilise conditions, and provide critical support and safety to the world’s most vulnerable.
Australia for UNHCR is a not-for-profit organisation that has been improving the lives of refugees and displaced people since 2000. To find out more about their work and pledge your support visit refugeewomen.org.au.
To read an exclusive with actress Kristin Davis pick up the latest MiNDFOOD, our special 8th Birthday April issue, on sale now.