Refugees face governmental turmoil, political prosecution and natural disasters; however, women are further burdened by their female status, biological functions and lack of attention to the needs of women in refugee camps.
Refugee women sustain emotional and often physical scars attempting to escape from oppressive situations. They are forced to leave, face death or perhaps something worse. They may find these horrors anyway, but they will risk that unknown for a chance at a different life. The first stop on this arduous journey is often a refugee camp. Here, if they are lucky, they are provided with basic needs such as food and shelter. During a presentation by the International Rescue Committee, a group that helps refugees, my fear was confirmed, that the needs of women are not being met. The I.R.C. spokesman said, "Women are sometimes given information on birth control, AIDS prevention and family planning, but it depends on the country." I find it difficult to imagine that something as obvious as birth control is hardly considered or purposely denied to these women. I realize this resource may be new to some women and may even violate traditional or cultural beliefs; however, this is an instance where their momentary survival must be their biggest concern. Women should be given the chance to start over without the additional burden of a full womb.
After these women and children are uprooted, they are often forced to deal with the dreadful possibility of experiencing abuse, rape, childbirth and protecting children, often without the assistance of a partner. These hardships are doubtfully given the attention and resources needed as noted by the lack of security in refugee camps. It is not an easy journey for boys or men either, but it must be extraordinarily difficult for a young girl experiencing her period for the first time while fighting off a perverse stranger in a refugee barracks or recovering from a rape only to discover there is a pregnancy to deal with. Such realities must cause such distress as to make a woman feel hopeless and perhaps invite death as a less frightening option.
It is sad that the plight of these women does not stop at new borders. In the case of refugee women, even if they are luck enough to reach a host country they often find themselves begging for asylum. They are likely forced to give details of experiences they have had and may hesitate to be completely open about the terror that awaits them if they are forced to return home.
When immigrant and refugee women find themselves starting over in a new country, such as the United States, they may meet with limits on welfare assistance. A woman with dependent children would certainly be affected by this most desperately. Migrants are often blamed for being the root of economic and social change. Women are considered the cause, as they are the visible source of reproduction. Women either cause the assumed flood of dependents on the welfare system by having children or they are causing men to steal jobs to support those children. These women are often further confined within violent situations in their homes. In an Arizona Republic article dated, 9/29/2001, a Russian woman’s visa expired and refused to call authorities on her abusive husband for fear that she would be deported and her children taken. Leah Meyers, a director with the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said, "We see many abused, undocumented women. Men use the women’s undocumented status to control them. They convince them that if they call the police they will be deported. It is a lie but it often works." It is so unfortunate that women are leaving desperate situations only to face new torments in unfamiliar surroundings they must now call home.
I understand that the Western culture should not force itself onto non-Western people’s way of life when they are established in their own culture. However, I believe once people are subjected to the Western culture, the women should be given the opportunity to be women of the twenty-first century and not limited to the options of an American homemaker in the 1950’s environment.
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