The Ebola virus is unique in many ways -- but not all. A series of facts about the current outbreak reflects a trend that the Women’s Refugee Commission consistently finds in its research and highlights in its advocacy: When crises happen, women and girls of all ages are uniquely vulnerable and disproportionately impacted.
Fact: The Ebola virus, which is transmitted to people from wild animals and infects humans through human-to-human transmission, is an equal opportunist. The virus, for which no drug or vaccine has been proven effective, demonstrates no preference for male or female, young or old.
Half of the world's 10.5 million refugees now reside in cities. They often have few assets, limited support networks, and are constrained by legal, cultural and linguistic barriers. To date humanitarian efforts have focused primarily on camp-based refugees, leaving the needs of urban refugees poorly understood.
I am Joseph Munyambanza, a-23-year old refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
At the age of 6, my village was attacked and I fled to Kyangwali Refugee Settlement in Uganda. There, I lived among thousands of refugees. Driven there by different conflicts in different countries, we all ran from violence and its many problems. Even after arriving at the refugee settlement, a presumed place of safety, we faced poverty, violence, and disease. Many children lacked parents or guardians. Most children lacked quality education: in a camp of 23,000 people, 50% of whom were of school age, there was only one high school. It was overcrowded, understaffed, and terminated in grade 10. And across the refugee settlement, we all lacked responsible leaders to cultivate hope for the future.
So at the age of 14, I and three friends founded "CIYOTA," the COBURWAS International Youth Organization to Transform Africa. "COBURWAS" mixes the names of the countries we come from: Congo, Burundi, Uganda, Rwanda and Sudan. Together as CIYOTA, our goal is to unite refugee youth from different countries to solve shared problems.
If you've glanced at the headlines or scanned newspaper photos in recent months, then you've come across the visual consequences of crisis and forced displacement.
In Syria, millions of war-battered women and children trekking miles to seek refuge in neighboring countries. In Gaza, hundreds of civilians killed and homes destroyed. In the United States, thousands of unaccompanied children fleeing violence in Central America and arriving at the border. In the Central African Republic, scores of families leaving their homes to escape sectarian violence.
Less easily captured by media are the invisible wounds: the mental health consequences that these sights, sounds and moments have on displaced persons, particularly youth.
Sifa Mateso's father passed away when she was in primary school. Her mother was left alone to care for her and her sibling. At age 14, Sifa decided to get married.
"I thought I could make a better life and assist my mother and my sibling," she explains. "My mother faced many difficulties. The situation at home was getting worse every day."
Soon after her first child was born, Sifa's husband began to abuse her, both physically and emotionally. She divorced him, packed up and headed back home with her child.
Read the blog by Kulsoom Rizvi of the International Rescue Committee, about an adolescent girls project that is supported by the Women's Refugee Commission.
Last year in Lebanon, my colleague Emma met 16-year-old Zeinah*. Zeinah, who had recently arrived as a refugee from Syria, had been shot in the back while shielding her 3-month-old baby as they were fleeing the city of Homs, leaving her unable to walk and wheelchair dependent.
Of the world's 51.2 million people displaced by conflict and persecution, an astonishing 7.7 million are persons with disabilities. While many of their disabilities are longstanding, many are new, like Zeinah's, the result of war-related violence.
Editor's Note: Rather than recognizing the humanitarian refugee crisis, the Obama administration is responding as though it were an immigration issue, writes Michelle Brané, director of the Migrant Rights & Justice Program at the Women's Refugee Commission.
In recent months, an unprecedented surge of refugee women and children has been traveling alone to the United States to seek protection at our southern border. The vast majority are fleeing their homes in the Central American countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, and risking their lives as they make long and incredibly dangerous journeys to seek refuge on our soil.
Jakir's story is not an isolated incident—and for many families, the process is even worse. Apprehended parents are not guaranteed a phone call to make care arrangements for their children. Children can end up in the child welfare system if both parents are apprehended, if the migrant is a single parent, or if another parent or caretaker doesn't know how to find them.
Those children are why we've written our new guide: Detained or Deported: What About My Children? This in-depth guide is for migrant parents and their relatives, friends, advocates and lawyers. It provides step-by-step instructions for how to ensure that they get their children back at the end of the immigration process.
There have been a lot of sleepless nights at the Women's Refugee Commissionlately. Despite our best intentions of leaving work at work, our minds have been fixed on the Southern border, where a humanitarian crisis affecting primarily women and children is worsening by the day.
Because of extreme and intensifying violence and organized crime in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, women with young children -- some as young as infants -- are fleeing for their lives. These families are fleeing domestic violence, forced gang recruitment and the collapse of economic and social systems. Countries throughout the region have seen an increase in women and children seeking asylum. In the neighboring countries of Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua and Belize, applications for asylum are up 712 percent. In the United States, Border Patrol stations are packed with exhausted, frightened families in need of immediate physical and psychosocial care. The vast majority of these families have harrowing tales to tell of being physically and emotionally abused by partners, or being threatened by gangs who tell them, "join or die."
The scale of violence committed against women and girls, mostly by men, constitutes a global crisis affecting all people and all societies. From physical and psychological abuse, rape and genital mutilation to exploitation and human trafficking, gender-based violence (GBV) has profound and long-lasting consequences for individuals, families and communities. Some of the worst atrocities may appear in the headlines, but the majority of survivors' stories go untold.
The global summit on sexual violence in conflict, convened last week by UK foreign secretary William Hague and UN special envoy Angelina Jolie, provided an important platform for survivors to be heard and propelled the issue to the top of the international news agenda - at least for a few days.