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Invisible faces of war

Jun 20, 2009

Refugee Girls: The Invisible Faces of War is a comprehensive document by the Women’s Refugee Commission. It narrates untold stories of millions of girls displaced by conflicts and shows how with education these girls can emerge out of the crisis.

Refugee Girls: The Invisible Faces of War

Publisher: Women's Refugee Commission, May 2009

Girls are rarely featured in the coverage of armed conflict. More than 140 million girls live in fragile states. Of the 42 million people who have had to flee their homes because of war, 80% are women, children and young people. At least 10 million are estimated to be girls and young women.

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War forces girls into unfamiliar roles. A girl who has spent her young life shrouded and kept behind closed doors by her family to ensure her “virtue” may find herself suddenly thrust into a very adult world of sexual exploitation and abuse inflicted by war.

At the same time, the unexpected new roles and responsibilities thrust upon girls during conflict confer a significant measure of independence for the first time in their lives.

Refugee girls are resilient and strong. Their lives are not easy, yet they strive to make the most of the opportunities they are offered.

The book shows how girls are even forced to join war. One major study estimated that between 1990 and 2003, girls were part of fighting forces in 55 countries. Sometimes girls caught in war torn regions choose to enlist for protection in response to threats of violence.

Health and education

It reveals how girl combatants face unique health issues because of the sexual violence they experience.

Health complications arising from pregnancy, delivery, abortion or miscarriage, often aggravated by the absence of any health care as well as an acute lack of knowledge about reproductive health on the part of young girl soldiers, are common. Girls are also susceptible to contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

Sadly, girls and women are rarely given the opportunity to participate in discussions in which repatriation decisions are made. They may not be given vital information regarding their home country’s political and economic situation, which would allow them to make their own informed decision.

Promoting education for girls is the single most effective way to encourage and achieve adequate nutrition and hygiene. It has also been found that teaching safe livelihood strategies will enable employment in the local market that can help prevent adolescents’ conscription into military forces, prostitution and other exploitative labour practices, greatly improving the likelihood for lasting peace.

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