People forced to flee their homes often have hope that one day they will lead safer lives with better opportunities. This hope often sustains them through the difficulties they face on a daily basis. Of the world’s nearly 80 million forcibly displaced people, women and girls make up around 50 percent of this population. Displaced women face unique challenges that are often overlooked; challenges which the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated.
This week, we are celebrating International Women’s Day. In doing so, we #ChooseToChallenge the social and economic disadvantages that prevent women and girls from fully and freely realizing their potential, and call for bold actions towards achieving gender equality.
At Refugees International, we have seen that women and girls demonstrate perseverance and a sense of optimism that not only helps them survive, but also uplifts their families and communities. We highlight the hopes displaced women—especially young women—have shared with us as they aspire for brighter futures.
Jhormari Diaz, Venezuelan in Colombia, 30 years old
“My hope is to one day go back to Venezuela and be with my family. My goal, while in Colombia, is to start my own business and become even more independent. Migrating has really inspired me to believe in myself. It’s important to never lose hope…We must all realize that everything happens for a reason. Good things can come from difficult situations. We’re always growing. Women have been resilient and brave. We’re constantly transforming ourselves so we can lead better lives.”
Dorcas Iragena Manzi, Rwandan in the United States, 26 years old
“Living the life of a refugee in Kenya was difficult because we lived in constant fear. We lived not knowing what the next day would hold, but we lived in hope that one day we would leave and go to a safer country. People who have been refugees live in constant hope, it’s what keeps [us] going… I also hope that President Biden will grant more opportunities to refugees for safety in this country. We know that the United States is not perfect, but at least [here], refugees won’t be living in fear, and they’ll have more choices and freedom. I have hope that the refugee women I left [in Africa] will also be granted a similar opportunity to be resettled.”
Florence Uwamahoro Uwiziyimana, Congolese in Rwanda, 27 years old
“My hope for the new year is to find a job so that I can take better care of my younger siblings. I live in a camp right now and the UNHCR gives me food every month. But I want a job, because I don’t want to always be asking for food. I don’t want to stay here in Rwanda forever because life is very hard here… I want to go to America. There are other Congolese people that lived in the refugee camp and they got the chance to go to the United States. When I talk to them now, they always tell me about how their life has changed. They eat, they have nice jobs, and they are always willing to work. Life in America [seems] really good and you can feed your kids.”
Marina Zafari, Afghan in the Netherlands, 30 years old
“Coming to Europe was a tough decision for me because I loved living in Kabul. I was a TV presenter in Afghanistan. I loved producing programs and seeing the results in my living room. But the situation in Afghanistan forced me and my husband out… And when I came to Europe, I thought I would be in the land of democracy and civil rights where I wouldn’t have to struggle as a woman. But no. Here I have to double my efforts to become someone… I hope this time [amid the pandemic] will bring a change to men’s mentality towards women—especially in the migrant community. Women who had prominent jobs in their countries lost something that they worked hard for in their host country. And this loss is difficult to fathom.”
Peace Izabayo, Rwandan in the United States, 28 years old
“Personally, I think the hardest thing about living in America is not being a refugee, but it is being Black. In Africa it was never a crime to be black or something I had to worry about. Of course, my English is not great, but I can work on that. I can never work on or change the way I look. I hope that feeling like I don’t belong will go away. I hope that Black Americans—whether they are African like me or not—will feel safe and be treated well.”
Clementine Yuyishime, Congolese in Rwanda, 24 years old
“When we left Congo we didn’t know what happened to our parents. We didn’t know if they were dead or alive, but we still traveled to Rwanda. I live in the camp, and one of my children is disabled. I hope this year that I can get some help in caring for my child who is 3 years old and can’t walk or eat solid foods. It is really difficult to care for him in the camp.”
Hiba Alhaji, Syrian in Turkey, 34 years old
“One of the biggest challenges for Syrian women is that violence against women is legal within the Syrian legal system. So this violence is becoming a structural problem in Syrian communities. I have a lot of hopes, but for this year I really hope that Syrian women detainees and absentees are free again. I also hope that equality becomes a widely supported social cause, not just something that women are fighting for themselves.”
Yanira González, Venezuelan in Colombia, 46 years old
“It’s difficult to talk about goals amid our current circumstances. There are so many difficulties that come with the instability of migrating, the pandemic, etc. ‘Normal’ life has been affected by these realities, but when you do look at your life through a lens of hope and possibilities, you begin to imagine ‘what could be.’ My goals are based in my hope that we will be able to overcome the circumstances we are facing on a global and national level, as I find myself here in Colombia. The simple act of coming from another country and living in an unknown place makes you look at things through fresh eyes. My goal is to find steady employment so me and my family can live a steady life. I want to be able to give my children a better future—knowing that they can go further than I could ever imagine. I want to envision a better tomorrow for my kids wherever they may be—even if they’re not in their native land.”
PHOTO CAPTION: Martha, who has been displaced with her husband and five children for six months, plants seeds in a makeshift camp for internally displaced people and returnees on March 21, 2018 in Kabutunga, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photo Credit: JOHN WESSELS/AFP via Getty Images.