This International Women’s Day, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, actress and Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, shines a light on the strengths of refugee women around the world who are making the world a better and more sustainable place.
My mum was the first woman to empower me in life. Watching her growing up as a nurse, seeing her work ethic, strength and creativity, gave me the gift of stability and the 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 honour of meeting Burundian refugee women. Forced to flee their homes to escape from violence, these women spent their days in exile creating beautiful, artisanal products (from bags and dresses to baskets) with their own hands, as gifts for their new hosts. I was awed by their kindness, strength and determination. Despite great adversity, grief and pain, they were channelling their energy into something so uplifting and benevolent.
Over the last few weeks, I, like many others, have been shocked and saddened by the unfolding crisis in Ukraine. The rising figure of individuals fleeing the country – which now reads at over 1.7 million – is tragic. Most of them are women and children. They are leaving their family members and homes, their lives, communities and jobs – and so much more.
Those who remain face risks to their safety. The humanitarian consequences of this situation are devastating. As the rest of the world comes together in solidarity and humanitarian organisations roll out support, I hope for relief and respite for all women and girls impacted by conflict and displacement – from Ukraine to Burundi and elsewhere. I hope they are guided and comforted by their inner strength to help get them through.
As we are forced to contend today’s global challenges – from conflicts, the Covid-19 pandemic and the worsening climate crisis – we must do more to support the leadership of women and girls in responding to these crises.
Across the world, women and girls are on the frontlines, stepping up – from leading communities to result in more effective climate action, to responding to displacement, to advocating for peace. Particularly in refugee communities – of which 80 per cent are from countries on the frontlines of the climate emergency – women are powerful leaders for climate adaptation. I have been inspired by many female climate activists over the last few years, such as Xiye Bastida who I met recently, and who is paving the way and empowering others to come together in solidarity to react to the climate emergency. Also Emi Mahmoud, a friend from Darfur, who was once a refugee. Emi uses poetry to advocate and shed light on the human impacts of the climate crisis. Women like Emi and Xiye, who use their strength to promote goodness, bring hope to the future of gender equality.
Perseverance, resilience and strength, as my mum taught me, are some of the greatest gifts in life. They are not just to help us overcome life’s challenges and adversities – but a means to help us push for a more equal, peaceful and sustainable world.
To donate to the UNHCR and support their invaluable work at this time click here
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