#RefugeeCrisis – Alaa Murabit : “Women face particular challenges”

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As news about the plight of the millions of refugees continues to shock Canadians, one question keeps coming back: what can we do to help in Canada? We hope this series will inform us about the effects of this crisis on refugees and the important role human rights education can play in creating a welcoming environment in Canada for people forced to flee their homes. We invite you to share the following articles on social media to inspire your family, friends, neighbours and colleagues and reflect on the actions we can all take to build inclusive, equitable and respectful communities.   This is the third article of the series. Read the first article  by Kathleen Weil, Quebec Minister of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusion, here > Read the second article  by Ayman Al-Yassini, RSD Expert – United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), here >*** Dr. Alaa Murabit is the guest of the 2015 Equitas Toronto Cocktail, held on the eve of International Human Rights Day, Wednesday, December 9th, 2015.  More information > / Alaa Murabit Physician and founder, Voice of Libyan Women Equitas International Human Rights Training Program alumna (2011) 1. What are the particular challenges faced by women in situations of displacement? First and foremost, we have to remember that emergency situations are not gender neutral. Women and children account for the majority of deaths (80% in conflict); women and girls are often assaulted, exploited and abused, for example through starvation and malnutrition, as food is often controlled by men for gains;  they are also at risk of rape, trafficking and slave trade. Women are violated as they can be forced into marriage by armed groups and/or forced into religious conversion. They also often lack the necessary health services. Women face particular challenges because they are less likely to have economic opportunity and have very limited political opportunity or involvement in peace talks.  There are also many accounts of women’s rights defenders that are being targeted for their own activism, or for that of male family members. 2. How are identity and mobility shaping our changing world, and how can human rights education help us better understand these changes, and take positive action? Talking from my firsthand experience in Libya, human rights education is critical for people to mobilize. Our world is changing. While it seems to be getting smaller, there are also increased communication opportunities, higher connectivity and more paths for information. Used positively, the multiplicity of communications channels can ensure that human rights principles spread widely and can flourish. However, used with a negative intent, they can spread xenophobia and fear. The problem with talking about identity in this regard is that there is no one formula. We have seen a rise in extremism partly because young men and women feel as though they do not belong in local communities, due to racism and inequalities. Human rights education helps address those gaps, in Canada and around the world. 3. What are our individual and collective responsibilities, as Canadians, in welcoming refugees in our communities and in insuring the respect of their rights and the understanding of their identities? Canada has had such a long and proud history of embracing those who are in need of an opportunity to rebuild their lives free of fear or persecution; be it refugees coming from Vietnam, Kosovo, Iraq and so many more. We also have to remember and take into account our share of “bad” history (such as the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada) so that we rectify the harm done and never repeat the actions that went against our values. On the international stage, we are not known for a powerful military nor a leading economy; what we are known for is our commitment to human rights. Cuts in funding for international aid, for women’s rights etc., has been destroying this proud tradition these past 10 years. It is time that we become the Canada we have always been most proud of, and the Canada which has made us stand above the fray. (+) Step in the right direction: The renaming of the Canadian Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (-) Step in the wrong direction: Stating that the Canadian government had to review the Syrian refugee welcome plan following the Paris attacks on November 13th, 2015.

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