Women and girls who are forced to flee their homes face many risks and challenges, including exploitation, enslavement, rape and other forms of abuse and sexual violence.

On International Women’s Day on 8 March, UN Secretary-General, António Guterres highlighted the priority that must be given to ending discrimination against women and girls everywhere. He said in his video message to mark the day:

“Achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls is the unfinished business of our time, and the greatest human rights challenge in our world.”

Here are five ways UNHCR is supporting refugee women and girls to thrive, not just survive.

1. Protection

Imagine walking up to 10 kilometres through isolated countryside to collect firewood. That is often a daily task for women and girls in refugee camps and it places them at high risk of sexual assault. UNHCR-led initiatives protect women and girls from sexual violence. For example, in Nyarugusu camp in Tanzania, fruit and timber trees have been planted inside the camp, so that women and girls no longer have to travel long distances from the relative safety of the camp to collect firewood.

2. Education

Education gives women and girls the tools to rebuild their lives and communities. Sixteen-year-old Anais fled violence in Burundi with her mother and sister. Anais now attends secondary classes at Paysannat satellite school in Rwanda, where UNHCR has helped construct 133 classrooms outside Mahama camp. Her favourite subject is science and she hopes to become a doctor one day. Anais is one of nearly 10,000 Burundian refugee students studying there.

3. Boosting independence

Employment is one of the most effective ways women can rebuild their lives after fleeing conflict. In Rwanda, women are learning valuable skills at a centre in Mahama refugee camp. Determined to help her family survive, 18-year-old Sandrine has learned to sew. “If I go back to Burundi one day, I will be a tailor and support other women and girls, and teach them how to sew too,” she says.

4. Fighting gender-based violence

Young women like Aisha, a Somali refugee in Jordan, are learning how to protect themselves against harassment. Aisha is part of a group of refugee women who learn self-defence at the first women-only gym of its kind in the Middle East. SheFighter studio has empowered countless women, increased their confidence and improved their physical strength. So far, UNHCR has supported 25 refugees from five different countries to learn self-defence at SheFighter.

Sixteen-year-old Anais attends secondary school classes at Paysannat school, located just outside of Mahama camp in Rwanda. © UNHCR/Hannah Maule-ffinch

Eighteen-year-old Sandrine came to the Women’s and Girls’ collective in Rwanda to learn how to sew. She makes dresses, shawls and shorts. © UNHCR/Hannah Maule-ffinch

In Jordan, Somali refugee Aisha learns self-defence at SheFighter studio, the Middle East’s first women-only gym. @ UNHCR/Olga Sarrado Mur

5. Sexual health awareness

Women and girls are most at risk of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) as a result of conflict and displacement. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, UNHCR supports survivors through medical care and listening houses, giving women a safe place to talk about their experiences and seek help. UNHCR also trains refugee women to be volunteer counsellors with ‘big ears, big hearts and small mouths’.

Women and girls are most at risk of violence as a result of conflict. Your support will help women and girls live with safety and dignity.

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