“Extra Challenges for Female Refugees” by Jaileane Aguilar

In today’s world, many American women are focused on perfect hair, perfect skin, or any supermodel’s body. 

Little do they know, there are women on other continents trying to find safety. 

Female rights are so limited in some countries, women flee and search for freedom.

Hamida Muhammadi, a 23-year old woman from Afghanistan, said she fled because her husband and mother-in-law would physically and sexually abuse her.

“My family and my mother-in-law all tortured me for eight years,” Muhammadi said from the safety of “Stand by Me,” a school for refugees on the Greek island of Lesvos.  Living in a war zone was difficult enough for Muhammadi, but the abuse added to her stress.  She said her own mother was aware of the mistreatment, but she did nothing to stop it.

According to the UNHCR, for the first time since World War II, Europe is experiencing a massive movement of refugees and migrants, including women, girls, men and boys of all ages, fleeing armed conflicts, mass killings, persecution and pervasive sexual and gender-based violence. 

“We used to hide. Not come out. They would kill people, shoot people, it was not good,” said Edith, a Nigerian woman who has been living with her 5-year old daughter and husband in the Cara Mineo refugee camp in Sicily for more than two years.

Migrating can be more challenging for a woman than it is for a man seeking asylum or safety. 

Many countries have normalized treating men as independent beings.  A man running away from his home in hopes of a better life is more common than a woman searching for the same rights and refuge.

Being a woman makes them prone to discrimination and high altitudes of danger.

While about four in ten asylum seekers are young adult males, about one in ten are young adult females in the same age group, according to Pew Research Center. Many women who flee their country are asylum seekers who seek refuge in common places like Europe. This is due to ongoing armed conflicts in their own countries. 

Some dangers women face in their own countries continue once they migrate. Domestic violence, rape, sexual assault or harassment, and physical assault can occur along the way.

Women require necessities for menstrual bleeding such as, pads, tampons, cleaning supplies, and extra undergarments to keep clean. Imagine traveling through circumstances like a monthly period, while having the symptoms that come with it, such as cramps and bloating?

Hamida Muhammadi, from Afghanistan, said she purchased medicine so that she would not have her cycle while traveling on a boat.   

While many women who live in refugee camps are afraid for their safety, some prefer to stay inside the camps, rather than be back at home. Women like Muhammadi who live in the camps refuse to go out once it is sunset because they are scared of the actions men will attempt inside the camp.

 “Some woman get raped, the men in the camp get a hold of alcohol and it becomes dangerous for women,” said Muhammadi. 

Muhammadi said every day is a gift but also a risk because they don’t know what their future holds for them the following days. 

Edith took the risk to flee from Nigeria to Niger, then to Libya and finally made it to Catania. She’d never been familiar with Sicily. Edith has no family in Catania aside from her husband and daughter. 

In Libya, while on her journey, Edith said she felt her life was threatened. She traveled in fear until she made it to Sicily.

When asked about her journey, Edith responded saying, “No good. It’s horrible.”

In Sicily, Edith delivered her baby in the city of Caltagirone, in the center of the island, naming the baby girl Praise. 

“When I delivered in Caltagirone they helped me with clothes and food and everything,” Edith said.

She described caring for Praise, saying it has not been an easy task while being a refugee and living in a camp. 

Many of the refugees apply for asylum after arriving in a European country like Italy in hopes of gaining refugee status. But asylum seekers often have to wait months, if not years, just to have their applications processed. Those who obtain refugee status receive permission to stay in the country a year or longer and often receive help to integrate. 

But not all asylum seekers will receive refugee status. Those applicants who happen to be rejected and do not appeal, are required to leave Europe either voluntarily or through deportation. 

According to the Asylum Information Database managed by the European Council on Refugees and Exile often women in the camp sell sex in exchange for money. Many of the underage girls work in the sex trade; some are either forced by their parents or others willingly choose to in order to make an income for the families back at home. 

“I am happy that the place I am going to will be better than this place (Cara Mineo) because this place is not easy,” said Edith. ” They treat people a certain way in this camp, and it’s not easy,”

Refugees run the risk of drowning while trying to get across the Mediterranean or Aegean Seas, they can die in deserts while being led by smugglers, or are even sold into slavery. Adding to the danger, women often battling pressures and struggles every day that society has implemented on them, when all they are trying to do is find a safe and comfortable place to call home.

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