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Gender and Social Inclusion

Girls with Few Options Deserve a Chance


Photo by: Jennifer Schulte

Walking to work today, I passed a group of young girls on their way to school—exuding energy, laughing and talking, backpacks full. My thoughts instantly flashed to a sobering statistic I just read in a new report from the Women’s Refugee Commission on the plight of Somali refugee girls in Ethiopia: in one camp, only 33 percent of girls are enrolled in primary school and a mere 15 percent are in secondary school.

If you have been following our Strong Girls, Powerful Women campaign and the story of Amina, you know that many refugee girls are not in school. They work and live in unsafe conditions and are at great risk of sexual violence and exploitation. Because humanitarian programs are rarely designed to meet the specific needs of refugee girls, they are often isolated and marginalized.

As part of a three-year project to improve the safety and resilience of refugee girls, the Women’s Refugee Commission just released In Search of Safety and Solutions: Somali Refugee Adolescent Girls at Sheder and Aw Barre Camps, Ethiopia. This report describes the everyday risks girls in the two camps face, including physical and sexual violence, early marriage and pregnancy and barriers to attending school. The report lays out a series of recommendations for organizations working to protect them. These include: increasing their physical security; supporting their participation and leadership; addressing barriers to their education and study; preparing them for safe and dignified work; improving efforts to address gender-based violence and improving the monitoring and evaluation of programs.

Our report on refugee girls in Ethiopia is the first in a series looking at the needs of displaced adolescent girls. Reports on refugee girls in Uganda and Tanzania will be released later this fall. And the Women’s Refugee Commission will be working with local organizations in all three countries to pilot innovative projects aimed at enhancing girls’ safety and helping them access education and safe work options.        

Ultimately, we want refugee girls to have the same opportunities to thrive as those school girls I saw today on the streets of Washington, D.C.

Gender and Social Inclusion