This past Tuesday on 22 March 2016, I attended a panel discussion titled "The Perilous Journey of Women Refugees Worldwide" hosted by Metro NY Chapter of the US National Committee for UN Women.
I was not quite sure what to expect, but felt compelled to attend simply because of the title. So I opted to skip class and headed out with an open mind. At the event, I silently sat towards the side of the room observing the diverse group of attendees and panelists make their way to their seats, eagerly waiting for the discussion to begin. Personally, I was feeling a bit intimidated, because in my head I was outside of my element. My insecurities quickly evaporated once the discussion began, because the reality was, I was in my element, I was amongst like-minded advocates for WOMEN and CHILDREN IMMIGRANT rights.
It’s so astonishing to me that many of us who are fortunate enough to live in a seemingly democratic society, take for granted the privileges WE have as women; such as having the freedom to take a shower at our liberty, and/or the freedom to make personal decisions regarding our lives, including relationships, careers and family. WE (some of us), when talking about DISPLACED WOMEN, habitually either consciously or unconsciously categorize ‘our lives as different from theirs’ (refugee and/or homeless women), instead of identifying our commonality as first being WOMEN, and then acknowledging them as being DISPLACED.
A few months ago, Her Billions hosted a charity drive to collect toiletries for homeless women in NYC and we did not really think much of it, we just wanted to do something special for women during the holidays. However, during the panel discussion, I had an ah ha moment when Ugochi Daniels of UNFPA mentioned how the seemingly small act of providing "dignity packages" (much like Her Billions toiletries packages) to women in refugee camps, HUMANIZES them. I was wowed!
My pores raised and I felt an instant chill and wave of embarrassment, because I am very guilty of complaining if my shower is not hot enough, instead of being grateful that I have the liberty of showering in my own private bathroom without the constant fear of being violated as most refugee and homeless women face on a daily basis in the camps/shelters, or having clean feminine products to use to eliminate the risk of infections. Perspective is everything!
The other ah ha moment for me was when one of the panelists said that most refugee women would rather US (the mass public), not victimize them because of their displacement; they want us to know they are not victims, they are only doing what any one of us would do for our families - another WOW! That statement hit home for me personally as an immigrant!
Displacement from your HOME willingly or unwillingly is not an easy thing for either you or your family. Most times, it takes a very long time (statistics show approximately 20 years in many cases) for one’s life to get readjusted to a state of normalcy, especially when the displacement journey was/is heavy with traumatic events and atrocities such as rape, forced separation, theft, abuse, to name a few.
Sitting there amongst a jammed pack room of humanitarians, NGOs, activists and curious onlookers, I found myself reflecting on the sacrifices my own mother made for my family, and how I can make a difference in the lives of displaced women going forward.
Thank you to the entire panel for all the work they are doing in conjunction with their respective organizations to help alleviate the plight of displaced women worldwide.
• Ugochi Daniels, Chief of the Humanitarian and Fragile Context Branch, United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA)
• Joan Timoney, Senior Director of Advocacy and External Relations, Women’s Refugee Commission
• Dorothy Morgos. Ph.D., Head of the Psychosocial Care Unit at Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF-USA)
• Daniel Seymour, UN Women's Deputy Director of Programmes
Moderator: Reena Ninan, anchor at World News Now and America This Morning on ABC News, and reporter for “Good Morning America”, “Nightline” and other ABC broadcasts