With humanitarian assistance provided by the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration and managed by Centro Penc, a non-governmental organization partner of the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the Women and Girls’ Safe Spaces connects and empowers women and children in Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, and Serbia. This initiative, created in July 2020, was originally imagined as a physical safe space for refugee and migrant women and girls, but it has now also opened its doors to vulnerable women and girls in the communities that host refugees and migrants.
Moving to a new country can always be an isolating experience for individuals and families, but vulnerable migrants are especially susceptible during the COVID-19 pandemic. Women and girls are particularly at risk due to an increase in gender-based violence during the pandemic. The Women and Girls’ Safe Space fosters a sense of community where mothers and children can socialize, get support, and develop critical skills – creating a vital support network to reduce the risks of forced displacement and isolation. Women can obtain legal advice, health services, employment counseling, attend vocational class, play sports, and create art.
“The Women and Girls’ Safe Space was designed to be a second home for anyone who needs one. When these mothers tell us that they feel at home, and that they feel comfortable here, we know we met our main goal.”DeborahA refugee and Women and Girls’ Safe Space linguistic and cultural mediator
The program has a track record of providing leadership and growth opportunities for its participants. Deborah, a refugee who now works as a linguistic and cultural mediator for the Women and Girls’ Safe Space, arrived in Italy more than 20 years ago and has used her experience to help other women learn the language and integrate through the program’s support networks.
Globally, crisis situations result in increases in gender-based violence. The State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration is a driving force for promoting the protection of women and girls in humanitarian response from the start of a crisis. We work across the U.S. government, as well as with our international organization and non-governmental organization partners, to improve accountability, service provision, coordination, and innovation in the humanitarian community to prevent gender-based violence.
To learn more about the work of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, including our efforts to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, please follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and Instagram or visit our website.
About the Author: Dana Francis is Director of the Office Assistance for Europe, Central Asia, and the Americas in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. A Foreign Service Officer for more than 20 years, Dana has served previously as Regional Refugee Coordinator in both Bogota and Brussels.