Strengthening International Policies to Meet New Challenges
Not all issues that bear on gender equality can be effectively addressed by individual nations. For example, refugee and displaced women and children account for up to 80 percent of the 50 million refugees and displaced persons worldwide. The sheer numbers of refugee and displaced women and children highlight the urgent need to devise international strategies for dealing with this problem.
The sheer numbers of refugee and displaced women and children (estimated at 4 million)
The constraints that refugee and displaced women lace are similar to those faced by other women, only magnified many times. They lack access to health services, even though their health risks are high. Girls often have less access to basic education than in their home countries. With little access to family planning, women s fertility rates may be extraordinarily high at a time when the burden of additional children hinders the chances of survival for both mothers and infants. In the absence of professional abortion services, women may rely on self-induced and unsafe abortions. The proportion of female-headed households is highest in refugee situations, yet the women's income-generating activities and skills are minimal
The international response to this type of crisis is usually limited to emergency relief measures. Although vital, these measures often fail to recognize the long-term economic and social costs involved in restructuring the lives of displaced women when they return to their home countries. International public policy has an important role in preparing refugee and displaced women for their future role in rebuilding their societies. Long-term repatriation and development on a regional basis along the lines of the International Conference on Central American Refugees (CIREFCA) in Central America is one approach to involving governments, NGOs and development agencies in a coordinated response to refugee problems. Governments and agencies must make every effort to collaborate in making repatriation viable by establishing development programs that explicitly take account of refugees' needs. Otherwise, chances are high that people will once again be forced to leave their countries. putting at risk national reconciliation efforts.
Another area that demands an international response is the establishment of legal conventions for the enforcement of social justice and human rights. Equality under the law creates the legitimacy policymakers and private individuals need to seek change that will increase well-being and encourage economic opportunity. In certain instances, legitimacy needs to be established at the international level. For this reason it is vitally important that governments ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. This convention. adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979, provides a framework for action by countries to reduce discrimination against women in political and public life, law and education, employment, health care. commerce. and domestic relations. International conventions of this type provide an important policy lever for women's organizations and other groups in civil society.