On this International Women’s Day, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, actress and Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, highlights the strengths of refugee women around the world who are making the world a better place. and more durable.
My mother was the first woman to empower me in life. Watching her grow as a nurse, seeing her work ethic, strength and creativity, gave me the stability and freedom to pursue what I loved. She instilled in me the courage to make my own adventures, sheltered me with wisdom and welcomed my enthusiasm to dream.
In 2018, I went to Rwanda in my role as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. I had the honor of meeting Burundian refugee women. Forced to flee their homes to escape violence, these women spent their days in exile creating beautiful handicrafts (from bags and dresses to baskets) with their own hands, as gifts for their new hosts. I was impressed by their kindness, their strength and their determination. Despite great adversity, grief and pain, they channeled their energy into something so uplifting and caring.
Over the past few weeks, like many others, I have been shocked and saddened by the unfolding crisis in Ukraine. The growing number of people fleeing the country – which now stands at more than 1.7 million – is tragic. Most of them are women and children. They leave family members and homes, lives, communities and jobs – and much more.
Those who remain face security risks. The humanitarian consequences of this situation are devastating. As the rest of the world comes together in solidarity and humanitarian organizations extend their support, I hope for relief and respite for all women and girls affected by conflict and displacement – from Ukraine to Burundi and elsewhere. I hope they are guided and comforted by their inner strength to help them through.
As we are forced to face today’s global challenges – of conflict, the Covid-19 pandemic and the deepening climate crisis – we must do more to support the leadership of women and girls in responding to these crises.
Around the world, women and girls are on the front lines, stepping up their efforts – whether leading communities to achieve more effective climate action, responding to displacement or advocating for peace. Particularly in refugee communities – 80% of whom are from countries on the frontlines of the climate emergency – women are powerful leaders for climate change adaptation. I have been inspired by many women climate activists over the past few years, like Xiye Bastida whom I met recently, and who is leading the way and empowering others to come together in solidarity to respond to the climate emergency. Also Emi Mahmoud, a friend from Darfur, who was once a refugee. Emi uses poetry to advocate for and shed light on the human impacts of the climate crisis. Women like Emi and Xiye, who use their strength to promote good, bring hope for the future of gender equality.
Perseverance, resilience and strength, as my mother taught me, are some of life’s greatest gifts. They are not just to help us overcome life’s challenges and adversities – but a way to help us push for a more equal, peaceful and sustainable world.
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