4.3 Refugee committees
In most refugee communities there are formal/informal structures
or committees formed by refugees. These most often reflect those existing before
flight. Ideally, the representatives in such structures should change
periodically in order to limit the potential for abuse which can accumulate over
time. Often, the leadership starts out predominantly (or totally) male. Through
community development activities, women's participation can be increased in
order to allow full community representation. How to implement this will depend
on the social context and implementation is an ongoing process. It should start
at once. In an emergency situation, directive action may be necessary to ensure
the participation of women and any marginalised groups.
Family-specific factors include the demographic
composition of the family: the number, age and health of children, the presence
of men or other adult support, and the presence of dependent adults, for
example, the elderly. Optimum use of the women's time is a key consideration.
Some generalisations are possible: for example, on average some 10 % of the
women will be pregnant or lactating and thus should be using MCH services. Other
assessments require an analysis of the situation of individuals within the
community. The health and the educational needs of children will help determine
women's priorities for the use of their time. Health needs are likely to be most
acute in the early stages of an emergency, demanding, for example, a mother's
presence at selective feeding centres.
The role of men may also have changed
Many of the necessary practical decisions covered in these
guidelines can and must take account of the needs of women. For some
arrangements, however, there may be no choice, and the involvement of women will
be conditioned accordingly. The implications of different approaches for the
role of refugee men must be considered, and the possibility of their relieving
women of some of their traditional and most time-consuming tasks investigated.
Before flight, most heads of household were male and the providers or
bread-winners, while the women bore the major domestic burden of
work. With flight, refugee men have often lost much of their role, while the
tasks of refugee women have both increased and become more difficult.
Deciding the nature of involvement of refugee women
All of the previously mentioned factors influence the type of
involvement in food distribution that is possible and appropriate. The benefits
for women of their involvement, and the advantages of using their expertise,
must be considered against the additional burden and any attendant risks. The
refugee womens own assessment of the relative importance of each factor should
generally be determining. In some societies establishing this may not be
possible unless those seeking the information are not only well informed and
sensitive to these issues, but are themselves women (interpreters, if needed,
should also be women).
Areas for women's involvement
There are three broad possible areas for the involvement of
refugee women: in the decision-making processes and monitoring; in the food
distribution itself (women supervise and/or hand out the commodities); and in
collecting the food (where it is distributed to women not men).
¨ Women must be
involved, through their own representation, in decision making and monitoring,
from the elaboration of the system and the determination of their own
participation in its implementation, to membership of the food or supervisory
committees that should be established to monitor both the system's effectiveness
and each distribution. In the great majority of refugee communities, the
objective will be better served if refugee men are represented too.
¨ Women should choose
representatives who will be involved in the food distribution itself. The extent
and nature of this participation will depend on factors specific to that
¨ Women should actually collect,
or at least be present at the distribution of, the food for their household
(whether or not they are its head), if they themselves feel that this is the
most effective way to ensure that they receive their fair share and retain
control of its use thereafter.
The involvement of refugee women must be kept under review. As
for other aspects of the design and implementation of the distribution system,
constraints at a given time, and particularly in the early stages of a refugee
emergency, may prevent optimal involvement. As soon as these constraints can be
removed or are no longer present, the involvement of refugee women must be