By: Elina Govil
Every day, ongoing conflicts forces families, mothers, fathers, and young children to flee their homes. Often, they encounter a tough and dangerous journey ahead. They leave behind their family, friends, pets, community, school, belongings, and country, carrying with them only the hope of a better and safer life ahead. Along their journey, many face violence, dehydration, starvation, rejection, even the death of loved ones, all while simply trying to protect themselves and find a safe home.
June 20, 2017 marks the 17th annual World Refugee Day. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) commemorates World Refugee Day as a way to bring the public’s attention to the millions of refugees and displaced persons around the world, while honoring their strength and working towards a common goal of providing assistance and care for refugees. Each year, UNHCR decides a theme for the annual commemoration. This year, the theme is “We Stand Together #WithRefugees.”
Stories of refugees are prevalent in the news and on social media. Throughout the world, there are now over 65 million refugees, the highest amount since World War II. Half of these refugees are children or adolescents, and for too many their right to a safe and quality education is taken away. Matter of fact, only 22% of refugees go on to secondary school as compared to the 84% of people worldwide (UNHCR).
At Girl Up, we know the power and benefits of education. We know that education is a right, not a privilege. Through education, girls in countries like Uganda and Ethiopia are more likely to pursue careers, protect themselves, be more independent, and lead safer, stronger, and happier lives. Access to education leads to a more educated global society, which leads to a world with less violence and gender discrimination.
Before I attended the Girl Up Leadership Summit last summer, I never imagined I’d be able to make a difference in the lives of refugee girls. But at the summit, I was given the chance to lobby on Capitol Hill and speak to Midwestern U.S. Senators and Representatives about The Protecting Girls’ Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act, giving me the confidence and platform to advocate for girls.
H.R. 2408 Protecting Girls’ Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act was introduced by my local Representative, Steve Chabot (R-OH) and Representative Kelley Robin (D-IL). The bill focuses on making education for girls in vulnerable settings a U.S. priority. Specifically, it calls for the U.S. government to encourage countries to provide safe and quality primary and secondary education for refugees as well as promote hosting refugees within local educational systems.
Although the bill did not pass through Congress last year, it was reintroduced last month and we will continue our efforts advocating for the bill!
So, in honor of World Refugee Day, get together some of your friends and take action! Whether it’s simply calling your local representative, sending a letter to your representative through Girl Up’s website, or simply posting on social media post to increase awareness (don’t forget to use #withrefugees) — know that your voice is heard and you are helping increase access to education for millions of refugees worldwide!
Elina Govil is a 2017-2018 Girl Up Teen Advisor from Cincinnati, OH.