Yesterday marked International Women’s day; a day to celebrate the efforts and achievements of women around the world. This year’s theme is ‘Women in the changing world of work’. The aim? To consider how we can accelerate the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. 

Particularly the fifth of the Sustainable Development Goals: achieving gender equality and empower all women and girls. Because unfortunately, we still don’t fully appreciate the value of all women in society, not least refugees and refugee women.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about an IT skills workshop that Virgin Management hosted in partnership with Women for Refugee Women. It was during that workshop that I met an incredibly fascinating woman called Marie-Lyse. During the recent refugee crisis, Marie-Lyse became disheartened with the perception the general public have of refugees – particularly refugee women – as just a burden to society.

The story of refugees seeking asylum and losing the opportunity to put their skills and expertise to work is unfortunately a familiar one. Often there are extreme challenges faced before refugees are able to gain work, such as unrecognised qualifications, language barriers or lack of knowledge of the labour market with no exceptions being made for their special circumstances. Refugee women in particular face unique barriers as they also often have children to look after, with little or no access to childcare facilities. These are just some examples in a long list of other gender-based barriers to employment.

In Marie-Lyse’s own words:

“When the refugee crisis erupted and I saw people’s responses, I realised that I couldn’t sit idle and watch people making the wrong decisions due to lack of information. Becoming a refugee is not ones choice. What I know for a fact is that refugees have skills, knowledge and talents that can contribute to the prosperity of the host country if they are given the opportunity.”

Marie-Lyse is originally from Rwanda but having experienced the horrors of the Rwandan genocide, she was able to move to the UK and now dedicates her time to promoting human rights, social justice and social development. Marie-Lyse has a degree in African and Development Studies and a rich career in international development and women’s rights. She is currently a chair at an organisation called Make Every Woman Count.

Make Every Woman Count (MEWC), is a platform led by African women with a purpose to actively promote and advocate for the empowerment of African women and girls. They do this by providing African women with greater access to information around their rights and the opportunities available, as well as enabling them to actually make use of such information and demand the rights they deserve. MEWC’s platform provides women with access to information, knowledge sharing, networking, collaboration and also training and skills development.

Marie-Lyse is just one of many refugees who are making the most of their new life. She works with organisations like Women for Refugee Women to offer moral support to women who are still in the asylum process and to help educate the local population about the plight of refugees. Marie-Lyse and others are also now working to create a refugee and migrant women network on Make Every Woman Count. Through this network they hope to highlight and raise the profile of successful professional refugee women and enable other refugee women to realise their own potential.

So let’s take this week to celebrate the efforts and successes of women from all walks of life and all nations, because in celebrating them, we bring ourselves closer to the moment where every woman’s life will count.