“We must support young women refugees to realize their full potential as leaders in all spheres”—Lakshmi Puri

Remarks by UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri at the UN General Assembly side event “Investing in Adolescent Girls and Young Women in Refugee Crisis” on 19 September in New York.


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Excellencies, Distinguished guests, young women and young men leaders, colleagues,

On behalf of UN Women, I want to thank all of you all who came out to participate in this important event on “Investing in Adolescent Girls and Young Women in the Refugee Crisis”. We are very glad to join forces with the Malala Fund and the UN Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development’s Working Group on Youth and Gender Equality to co-host this side-event on the margins of the United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants.

As many of you may know, today, Heads of State and Government came together to address the issues surrounding large movements of refugees and migrants and endorse a set of commitments and a global agenda by formally adopting the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants.

As Member States discussed the outcome document which outlined areas of agreement and next steps both on a 'Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework' and on a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, we are here to draw our focus to adolescent girls and young women within the same context to ensure that the needs of all impacted adolescent girls and young women are not only brought to the forefront, but also adequately addressed.

Today, women make up approximately half of the 244 million international migrants and 21 million refugees worldwide. As both migrants and refugees, women – and particularly adolescent girls and young women – have specific needs and face unique vulnerabilities.

They are often forced to move by root causes such as conflict, violence, and human rights violations, and may experience psychosocial stress, trauma, and health complications, physical harm and risk of exploitation along the way.

The risk of sexual and gender-based violence, an ever-present reality for all women worldwide, significantly increases for refugee women. It is estimated that one in five women displaced in complex humanitarian settings have experienced sexual violence. This is likely an under estimation given the challenges associated with disclosure and data collection.

As refugees, adolescent girls and young women may become separated from their families or find themselves unexpectedly as the head of their household which in turn may lead to significant barriers to completing their education or participating in the labour force.

In addition to gender-based discrimination, adolescent girls and young women refugees are commonly subject to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, due to disability status, belonging to a minority group, and many other factors. This discrimination may limit access to basic services and decision-making processes and restrict their ability to fully participate and realize their potential as young leaders.

However, we must also recognize the many ways that adolescent girls and young women refugees contribute to the well-being of their countries of origin, destination and transit and in many cases they exercise leadership and with great resilience they are the drivers to rebuild their homes and communities.

Furthermore, as they take on new roles and responsibilities in their new communities and bring their energy and innovation to every new challenge they face, adolescent girl and young women refugees represent an immense opportunity for transformative change. Adolescent girl and young women refugees can be a driving force for gender equality, for women’s empowerment, and for greater peace and understanding throughout our world.

At UN Women, we welcome the gender-responsive recommendations that are outlined by the New York Declaration.

The Declaration commits UN Member States to ensuring that the responses to large movements of refugees and migrants “mainstream a gender perspective, promote gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, and fully respect and protect the human rights of women and girls.”

The Declaration commits to tackling the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination against refugee and migrant women and girls and takes into consideration the different needs, vulnerabilities, and capacities of women, girls, boys, and men. 

The Declaration recognizes the leadership of women in refugee and migrant communities, committing UN Member States to work on ensuring women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in the development of local solutions and opportunities.

UN Women remains committed to intensified efforts for combating human trafficking and smuggling of young women and adolescent migrants and refugees, and ensuring protection and assistance for the victims of trafficking and of smuggling.

We cannot do this alone. So today, we are here to talk, not only about the importance of investing in adolescent girls and young women but also, actions needed to positively impact their realities. Investing in girls and young women is a powerful path to helping them and entire societies to escape from violence and marginalization.

Only 4 per cent of projects in UN inter-agency appeals were targeted at women and girls in 2014, and just 0.4 per cent of all funding to fragile states went to women’s groups or women’s ministries from 2012 to 2013.

We must do better. We have a shared responsibility to ensure that our response to the refugee crisis is gender-responsive, is grounded in a human rights framework, and is accountable to those most vulnerable.

To guide our specific focus on empowering the most marginalized young women and engaging young men as partners in gender equality, UN Women has launched the Youth and Gender Equality and the LEAPs Framework, which calls for:

  • Strengthening young women’s Leadership;
  • Promoting Economic empowerment and skills development of young women; and
  • Taking Action to end violence against young women and girls.
  • Additionally, our framework has 3 P’s that make the case for promoting Participation, voice, and partnerships with young women and their organizations, Partnerships with young men, and intergenerational Partnerships to achieve gender equality.

In our response to the refugee crisis and the unique needs and vulnerabilities of adolescent girls and young women refugees, we recognize that:

  • Young women play a central role in the survival and resilience of their families and communities. We must support young women refugees to realize their full potential as leaders in all spheres; civic, economic, and political and empower local, young women-led groups to meaningfully participate in humanitarian responses.
  • We must promote economic empowerment and inclusion, and skills development and education for adolescent girls and young women refugees in their new communities.
  • We need innovative, youth-led approaches to ending violence against adolescent girls and young women in their countries of origin, destination and in transit. Engaging men and boys in this effort is critical, as is supporting survivors of violence.
  • Finally, we need all partners and stakeholders, including young men and intergenerational partners to invest in adolescent girls and young women refugees and support this strong gender focus and strong youth focus.

At UN Women, we remain committed to “engendering” and “enyouthing” the response to the refugee crisis with all the tools and resources we have at our disposal. Please hold us accountable to this – and hold your heads of state and government as well!

Today, with this impressive group of panelists and panelists, we look forward to listening and learning together. Let us work together to support ALL adolescent girls and young women refugees.

Thank you!