Celebrating Feminists’ Voices, Inspiring Global Peace

IWD Spotlight: Refugee Women Share their Stories at WILPF UK Seminar

5 March 2018

Leading up to International Women’s Day on March 8, WILPF will be publishing a series of articles spotlighting some of the efforts of our member groups to create a more sustainable, peaceful future for women around the world. Follow these publications and support International Women’s Day by sharing with the hashtag #IWD2018.


Detailing their painful experiences with domestic violence, racism, isolation, homelessness, lack of documentation, and imprisonment, ten refugee women captivated the attention of those attending WILPF UK’s Autumn Seminar with searing descriptions of their journeys to find safety in the UK.

The annual seminar, themed “Voices of Refugee Women,” was run by WILPF UK in an effort to “show solidarity with refugee women and raise awareness of what life is really like for refugee women in the UK,” as described on their website. Though each testimony of the refugee speakers was unique and irreplaceable, the common threads between the women’s stories were twofold.


First, most were subjected to extreme duress in the asylum countries in which they expected to find refuge and safety. Second, without exception, every refugee woman displayed astonishing strength in the face of adversity. These women, some of whom live in the shadows to avoid deportation, are truly formidable. But their personal resiliency does not mean that they can live indefinitely in these conditions.

For International Women’s Day, it is imperative that we support the women not just in whose stories we see our own reflected, but the women whose histories we cannot imagine for ourselves. Refugee women must live in a state of suspension and displacement that is difficult to empathise with. In that effort, we invite you to read about their stories and understand the barriers they face in resettlement.

The ten women who spoke presented on the following subjects: The legal process of assimilation, homelessness, absence of documentation, imprisonment, racism and domestic violence, political dissidence, kidnapping, isolation, and finally the importance of campaigning for refugee rights.


As a result of the seminar, WILPF UK published a booklet on the stories shared by the speakers. You can read the testimonies of Sarah, who fled her husband and domestic violence Uganda, but was subjected to further abuse by her extended family members in the UK; Renee, who escaped escalating conflict in Germany in 1939; and Elizabeth, who was trafficked from Ghana into the UK for forced prostitution and was left suspended, paperless for three years until the government “made up their minds” about her status.

Over eighty people attended the seminar, which along with the refugee women speakers included a choral rendition and presentations from authors and allies. The event was truly a diverse gathering: representatives from refugee support organisations provided support and organised speakers, and women of all ages and backgrounds gathered to lend an ear.

The final consequence of the seminar was a profound appreciation of those in attendance for the gravity and complexity of the condition of the refugee. Ultimately the lobby for refugee rights is crucial to alleviating pressure on refugees, particularly women, who are disproportionately vulnerable to the crisis. WILPF UK’s seminar was a demonstration of solidarity and support for the refugee women of the UK. Their efforts can be replicated in your community as well. For International Women’s Day, you can learn more about the refugee crisis by following up on the event on the WILPF UK website.

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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