The rights of women, girls and refugees are at risk | ActionAid UK

At a time when we see views being polarised, and when there are fears and anxieties about seeds of division and hatred being sown, it is important for us to consider the impact this would have on the lives of those who are most marginalised and live in some of the poorest countries of the world. In an increasingly inter-connected world, actions in one country could potentially have global impact – and especially if such actions emanate from some of the most powerful countries in the world. 

Women leading a protest in the state capital of Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, India, for International Women's Day in 2011
Women leading a protest in the state capital of Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, India, for International Women's Day in 2011

Despite having been US President for only a month, President Trump’s policy changes already threaten the welfare and rights of refugees fleeing violent conflict and women and girls living in some of the world’s poorest places. 

The immigration order announced by President Trump has had a serious impact on the safety, security and rights of refugees fleeing conflict and hardships from some of the poorest countries; one of the groups we at ActionAid take pride in supporting.

Both the United States and the UK are signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which commits states to responsibilities for refugees, including that they shall not be returned to a country where they face threats to their life or freedom – however, the order sets out that all refugees will be banned from entering the United States for four months, and arrivals from Syria, scene of a horrific and long-lasting humanitarian crisis, prevented from entering the US indefinitely.

With more people fleeing violent conflict than at any other time since WWII, It is deeply upsetting to think of the people who will no longer find shelter due to this policy. 

This follows hot on the heels of his reintroduction of the deeply damaging ‘Global Gag Rule’, which removes US aid funding from any organisation that gives advice related to abortion services. Many organisations providing health services in developing countries will be forced to close down altogether as they lose funding.

This will put the rights and lives of millions of women – and their babies — in the world’s poorest countries at risk, as they lose access to family planning and reproductive healthcare. It is also likely to have a knock-on impact on other types of healthcare, as some services losing funding would have also provided other types of healthcare, including for diseases such as malaria, TB or HIV/AIDS.

Enabling women to control their fertility is vitally important not just for their health but so that they can control their own destiny; this policy will impact severely on their rights and will put many lives at risk, due to a shortage of lifesaving healthcare or through pushing women into unsafe abortions as a result of a lack of access to contraception.

Our concerns regarding the impact on the lives of women, girls and refugees are based upon the values on which our organisation was founded: inclusion, internationalism, solidarity and women’s rights. These principles are fundamental to the work we do in 45 countries around the world.

We believe the rights of women and girls should be protected not eroded; that minorities should be respected and not alienated, and that refugees fleeing violence, disease and disaster should be sheltered and not shunned.

Fighting for rights

ActionAid has long prioritised the fight for women’s rights in our work in countries around the world; supporting them to tackle violence and overcome discrimination.

We also carry out work to help ensure the wellbeing of refugees on their journeys towards safety. We will always do whatever we can to stand up for their rights – whether through our practical work on the ground, through our policy analysis and advocacy, or through speaking out and campaigning when that is the right thing to do.

In these changing and challenging times, it is inspiring to see ordinary people from all over the world come together to make their voices heard and to stand in solidarity with vulnerable people – at the recent Women’s Marches in cities around the globe, at airports and in public squares across America, at the seat of the UK Government, and in more than two million signatures on the petition calling for a stop to the state visit.

Campaigning is a vital part of our work, not just in the UK but in the developing countries that we work in as well. We believe that when people come together to stand up for what they believe in and act in solidarity with a cause that they deeply believe in, they can change the world. 

We know from our work on the ground building coalitions across borders that we are stronger when we stand together.

In the United States our sister organisation ActionAid USA is now engaged in opposing President Trump’s actions on refugees, the global gag and a range of other issues.

Today, more than ever, it is really important the our parliamentarians recognise the need to champion and uphold the values that makes British society what it is, and what we as British citizens are proud of. And that should be consistent with our aspirations of being a truly ‘global Britain’ that is ready to stand by the poorest and most vulnerable people internationally.

What you can do right now

Join ActionAid to get involved, and stay involved, in the worldwide fight for women’s rights. Sign up and we’ll send you the latest news and ways you can make your voice heard.

Srikanth Kolari/ActionAid.

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