As International Women’s Day 2017 draws near, CARE International’s annual event for gender equality #March4Women on Sunday March 5th at the Scoop by City Hall (near Tower Bridge, London) promises to be bigger than ever.

Looking back over the last year since International Women’s Day 2016 when thousands turned out for CARE’s event Walk in Her Shoes, global action for women’s rights has seen some highs and lows. I am reminded of some words by Hilary Clinton: “To all the little girls watching,” she said in her November concession speech, “never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world.” Powerful words not least, because they remind all of us that no matter what setbacks or challenges women face we can never stop fighting for gender equality and women’s rights.

Virgin Unite, care international, refugees, womens march 2017

This year, building on global campaigning already underway, CARE International and partners will march and show solidarity for vulnerable or exploited women everywhere, especially refugee women. Joined by women’s rights advocates and artists Annie Lennox, Helen Pankhurst, Emile Sandé, David Arnold, Kate Nash and Bianca Jagger, and partner organisations including the Fawcett Society and Women for Refugee Women, CARE International’s #March4Women will see thousands of people of all genders coming together to march, sing and call on the UK government to do more for women’s rights and refugee women.

Women make up millions of the global figure of 65.3 million displaced people fleeing war and insecurity across the globe, often taking perilous journeys with children or even while pregnant. But whilst Europe continues to receive only six per cent of this global figure of displaced people, international leadership on refugees has never felt more under threat. Just last week, the Dubs amendment on accepting unaccompanied child refugees was scrapped having resettled just 350 children. Of the 4.8 million Syrian refugees fleeing conflict, the UK has started resettlement for 4,414 by the end of 2016, far short of the 20,000 they committed to. In comparison to Germany’s acceptance of over half a million refugees, or the 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon or the 2.9 million in Turkey, it is clear that Britain can step up its contribution.  

Virgin Unite, Care international, march 2017

CARE International’s #March4Women will challenge the government to be a global leader on refugees, reverse the cancellation of the Dubs amendment scheme and accelerate family reunification for vulnerable refugees inside Europe to join family members in the UK. Family reunification is a key area which is in desperate need of improvement. Even though refugees have the legal right to bring families over to the UK, the complicated paperwork and failure to recognise extended family leaves many refugees stranded. We are also asking the government to accelerate commitments to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees of 4.8 million Syrian refugees, by 2018 and to keep this level of commitment to refugees from outside Europe as part of doing its fair share for global refugees.

When I sometimes find these figures difficult to grasp, I think of some of the stories I have heard through CARE partners working with women refugees risking everything to come to Europe. I am reminded of Dana, a Syrian refugee, and the many hardships she faced when travelling to safety in Europe; from exploitation at the hands of smugglers to long hungry treks with two young children not much older than my two boys, and her sadness that her children know only the sounds of fighting. It is a personal story that continues to move me. 

Virgin Unite, Care international, march 2017, annie lennox

Refugee women and girls face exceptional difficulties in reaching safety, but equally, they are not powerless victims and must not been seen as ones: they are – in the words of Hillary Clinton –“valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world”. CARE’s recently launched report, 'She is a Humanitarian', highlights women’s participation in humanitarian action across various regions, including the Middle East and South-East Asia. CARE’s #March4Women this Sunday March 4th will celebrate their contributions to creating a fairer world alongside key political and cultural figures, and we hope you will join us. 

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