Mary Anne Schwalbe was a woman of many careers. She was a high school teacher; head of admissions at Harvard; and a founder, and later, director of the Women's Refugee Commission. Her work with the WRC was something she was passionate about through the end of her life.
Founded in 1989 (and initially called the Women's Commission), the Women's Refugee Commission's mission is to improve the lives of women and children refugees around the world. The commission points out that four out of five of the world's nearly 45 million displaced people are women, children and young people. Most of these women and children are in long-term displacement situations that could last up to 17 years. Through research and fact-finding field missions, the WRC identifies critical needs for these displaced people and advocates for change through the United Nations, humanitarian organizations, and specific governments.
The WRC also focuses on reproductive healthcare needs, raising awareness about the inadequate reproductive healthcare many refugee women receive in displacement settings. The WRC's advocacy of this issue has helped many women receive the care they need. In the United States, the WRC helps make sure displaced persons seeking asylum are protected according to U.S. law.
Since 1994, the WRC has assisted refugee women in earning their own incomes. The commission's handbook Building Livelihoods: A Field Manual for Practitioners in Humanitarian Settings, the only manual of its kind, helps field workers create opportunities for refugee women to forge livelihoods in the refugee camps. In 2006, the WRC was the first to research the risk of rape and assault that women and young girls face when they collect firewood outside of refugee camps. As a result of this research, the WRC has worked with the UN and humanitarian organizations to develop and disseminate tools to provide for the safe collection of fuel in refugee camps.
Pictures courtesy of the Women's Refugee Commission
This article was originally published in October 2012, and has been updated for the
June 2013 paperback release.
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