Investing in Her Future on International Women’s Day

08 March 2019

With the Spotlight on Girls and Women, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA Calls for Greater, Smarter Investment in Refugee Girls’ Education

Today, ahead of International Women’s Day, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA (JRS/USA) released a policy report, Her Future: Challenges and Recommendations to Increase Education for Refugee Girls,” which urges prioritizing education for refugee girls as a critical step in protecting girls from trafficking and exploitation and ensuring a brighter future for them and their families.

While girls’ access to education around the globe has received significant attention in recent years, refugee girls are still only half as likely to be in enrolled in secondary school as boys in the same circumstance. The report highlights why girls are less likely to be in school and provides recommendations to overcome these obstacles. As the world faces the highest levels of forced displacement since World War II, JRS/USA is accompanying refugee girls and women, providing education and other crucial support while they are displaced.

“For displaced girls around the world, education can immediately provide a sense of security and safety, create economic opportunity, and engender hope for a future beyond displacement,” said JRS/USA Executive Director Joan Rosenhauer, the first woman to serve in this position. “Education is an essential part of humanitarian response, and a refugee girl is not less deserving of this response and opportunity to pursue her education than her fathers or brothers. And in fact, investing in her future through education can serve as a shield for the additional risks female refugees face – including child marriage or trafficking.”

The report’s author, JRS/USA Director of Advocacy Giulia McPherson and JRS/USA Executive Director Joan Rosenhauer are both available to speak to the importance of investing in female refugee students.

The policy report identifies several challenges that uniquely and specifically limit the academic progress of refugee girls. These barriers include lack of refugee programming that addresses gender-specific needs and social and cultural norms that pressure young girls to stay home. Without school, a refugee girl is even more unlikely to find success in displacement. It becomes nearly impossible for her to integrate into a new country or reintegrate back in her home country without education, or after a significant gap in education.

The report’s key findings are that refugee girls are most impacted by:

  • Underrepresentation of gender in planning. While work has been done to address the needs of forcibly displaced children, donors and program implementers come up short in solving challenges faced specifically by girls.
  • Social and cultural norms keeping girls at home. Some religious and traditional values suggest that it is more worthwhile to invest in a son’s education and keep a daughter home to provide domestic support.
  • Lack of appropriate structures and materials. Allocating transportation money for girls to get to school can be prohibitive for many refugee families. In addition, many schools lack gender-segregated sanitation facilities and sanitary supplies, which can keep a girl home when she begins menstruating.
  • Unsafe and unsupportive learning environments. Girls and women were targets of attacks in educational settings or schools because of their gender in at least 18 of the 28 countries profiled in the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack’s 2018 report. Girls are also at greater risk of sexual abuse and exploitation.

To address these challenges, the report provides key recommendations to improve the future for refugee girls and women, including:

  • Incorporate gender into national, regional, and global education plans. Implement plans that promote equality and empowerment. Engage in research to better understand how to close the gap in access to education for refugee girls.
  • Address social and cultural norms that prevent girls from attending school. Establish networks that provide girls with an outlet to voice their concerns and carry out community programs to foster dialogue on how to best support for girls’ education.
  • Provide appropriate structures and materials to ensure girls are successful in school. Provide far-reaching access to schooling at all levels and gender-segregated sanitation facilities at all schools.
  • Promote safe and protective learning environments. Recruit and train male and female teachers and administrators from refugee and host communities to create more cohesive communities.