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    Refugee women: their perspectives and our responses.

    Wallace T

    FOCUS ON GENDER. 1993 Jun; 1(2):17-23.

    Development and implementation of policies concerning refugees must involve the refugees. This is particularly true of women refugees, who were the subject of 1990 guidelines drawn up by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. These guidelines state that program effectiveness depends upon consulting with women and their dependents and stress the need to protect the legal rights of women and to assure their access to special programs. In order to incorporate refugee women in policy development, a member of the assessment team must be able to perform gender assessment, women who can work directly with refugee women must be recruited, all staff must be briefed on the relevant issues, women's committees must be formed as soon as possible, refugee women must be recruited to do health and sanitation work, and evaluation must include a gender perspective. More research is needed to add to the little that is known about refugee women, and such research must be sensitive to the fears and concerns of the women and their host government. Various case studies provide examples of the importance of involving refugee women in planning and decision-making. In one case, problems that arose while women had to wait days for water could have been mitigated if the women had been informed about the reasons for the delay. In other cases, involving refugee women in decision-making led to a more appropriate choice of crops to plant and to more equitable distribution of land and tools. Training of women in water storage and use, preparation of new food, and health care can improve conditions in camps. Existing women's groups can be supported, and new ones formed where necessary, such as the group formed to help Guatemalan refugee women in Mexico deal with mental health problems. It is necessary to listen to women in order to meet their needs and design appropriate programs.
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