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A hopeful International Women's Day

Women in Asia share their wishes for the future

Yay Mao, who has lost three family members to landmines in Cambodia Yay Mao, who has lost three family members to landmines in Cambodia
  • Molly Mullen, Bangkok
  • Thailand
  • March 8, 2012
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The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is the empowerment of rural women and the ending of hunger and poverty. In Asia, women occupy an increasingly vulnerable position, particularly among refugee communities.

Whether young or old, and whether in border refugee camps or in urban apartment blocks, women face a common struggle to provide for their families in areas where they are denied legal and human rights.

Leaving their countries of origin to escape political, sexual or economic exploitation, many arrive in Thailand or other countries in the region in the hope of finding a safer environment in which to live and work.

To mark this year’s commemoration of International Women’s Day, the Jesuit Refugee Service Asia Pacific  in Bangkok has gathered testimonials from women in the region, in which they explain their hopes for their families and their futures.

‘My house is safe during both the rainy and dry seasons’

In refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border – some holding more than 20,000 refugees – women worry about resettlement, being sent back to Burma, education for their children and earning a living. But they all are concerned first and foremost about something more basic: survival.

Living in the jungle during the rainy season means mudslides. One mudslide and the trees that fall with it can sweep entire homes down the slopes of the camps. In the dry season, fires like the recent one in Umpiem Mai refugee camp can burn sections of the camp in a matter of minutes.

“We sometimes hear the news that someone has died because of a fallen tree. We are constantly threatened by landslides in the rainy season and by fire in the summer. We don’t have enough clean water in summer and there are no fire engines.” – May Tho, a refugee mother

[caption id="attachment_44592" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="A temporary camp for ethnic Karenni refugees from Myanmar near Mae Hong Son, Thailand (Fr Don Doll, SJ)"][/caption]

‘A secure future for my children’

I came to Thailand assuming that I would make enough money with my husband to return to Burma and put our children in a good school. Now we are here and can't even make enough to live a proper life. We have no savings and my children will soon have to drop out of school to help with work. – Mother of two who migrated to Ranong five years ago

‘Freedom from sexual violence’

I was really respected as a police officer in Djibouti. But once I realized that the abuse and torture from my husband would never stop and no one in the community would save me from him, I had to leave. Without refugee status I am afraid they will send me back to him and I will die. – Amina, who lives in Bangkok with her son awaiting resettlement

‘Enough food to feed my family three meals every day’

If we don’t make the bread in the morning, if we feel sick or tired, we won’t have enough money to feed our children. So we have to do this. Every day. No matter what. – Adelah, who with her husband bakes Afghani flat bread to sell to the refugee community where the live on the outskirts of Jakarta

‘That our yard is free of cluster bombs and landmines’

Yay Mao lost her daughter and niece to a landmine in the 1970s. And just five months ago, her 10-year-old grandson was killed when he found a cluster bomb close to their home. While Cambodia is a signatory to the ban on landmines and cluster munitions, it takes decades to clear the country of mines. Tell your government to ban landmines and cluster munitions today and find out other ways to help people like Yay Mao live safely here.

Molly Mullen is regional communications assistant at JRS Asia Pacific
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