Hesperian Health Guides
Women as Leaders
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When programs are developed without consulting the women who will be affected by them, the programs are less effective.
Women should be involved whenever plans or decisions are made that affect refugees and displaced people. Women should also be encouraged to become leaders in their new communities. This builds self-esteem, reduces feelings of loneliness and depression, encourages self-sufficiency, promotes safety for women, and helps those providing services to avoid mistakes.
Here are some ways women can take leadership:
- Participate in planning the way the settlement is arranged—for example, where the latrines, gardens, and water are located.
- Organize separate meetings for women and men about safety, basic needs, nutrition, and community involvement.
- Encourage women to talk about how they feel about their situation. Elect a leader who can talk to those who run the camp.
- Help with public information campaigns.
- Organize nutrition and health worker training programs.
- Organize child care centers. Child care is an important way to help women participate in activities where they can talk with others.
- Organize schools for children. Women are concerned about their children even in difficult times. The United Nations says that all refugee children have the right to an education, but few programs are available. Classes are sometimes overcrowded or there may be a shortage of teachers.
- Help organize reading classes, skills training, music, and sports for women and men.
When we arrived in Honduras we were weak from hiding in the hills and walking long distances to reach safety. There were many sick and malnourished children and old people with us. There was nothing here for us, so the women all worked together to organize nutrition centers. Then we got the local parish to bring us some extra food for the centers and we began to plant vegetables and raise chickens, goats, and rabbits to add to the food we prepared at the centers. Our projects have grown and now we are also able to give every family in the refugee camp a few eggs, a little bit of meat, and some vegetables at least once a month.
We needed to repair our clothing and shoes, so we organized workshops and convinced the agencies to bring us a few sewing machines and tools. Some of the women had worked as seamstresses and an older man knew how to make shoes and they taught others their skills. We are proud of what we have achieved here—we have shown that women can do more than cook.
The agencies trained us to become health and nutrition workers and to raise livestock. We have learned to add, subtract, and plan our expenses so that we can manage these projects ourselves. Because of our experience with these projects, many women are now leaders in the camp and when we return to our country we will be able to run community projects and businesses.
—Aleyda, a Salvadoran refugee in Colomoncagua, Honduras
Ways to earn a living
Refugee and displaced women need choices, so they will not be forced to sell sex to survive and support their families.
Refugee and displaced women often find it hard to get enough work to support their families. They may lack skills needed to work in their new home or find it difficult to get a work permit. But even in these situations there is often some work women can do.
For example, some refugee women do domestic work in people’s homes or work as health workers in organizations that provide aid. Sometimes these organizations also give women money to start projects in traditional women’s activities, like handicrafts. But since it can be hard to support a family with these activities, women should also try to find out about larger projects—like planting trees or building shelters—that pay more. Or, if women are given plots of land, they can grow food for their families or to sell. And if a woman has training, she may be able to work in a trade or small business.