Empowering Women Refugees for Decent Work

Photo: Empower Women

Refugees in Egypt, just like anywhere else, face a number of challenges in obtaining residency and the right to work and education. Women tend to bear these burdens the most. With several million refugees in Egypt—the majority coming from Sudan and Syria—integration into the local community has proved difficult considering the already high demand for employment, education, and public services.

Not only this, but refugees in Egypt suffer from increasing housing prices and decreasing wages, along with exposure to labour exploitation and a lack of labour rights within a largely informal economy. For men, this can mean hard labour for little pay, and for women it can range from vulnerability in a male-dominated workplace to sexual exploitation and assault at work—that is, when they eventually find work.

Egypt, along with several other countries in the region, is still fighting its battle with unemployment since the Arab Spring. The World Bank estimates that 13.2% of Egyptians are unemployed. Within that number, 42% of youth ages 15-24 and 64.8% of female youth of the same age group are without work, while 46% of females in the labor force are in vulnerable employment, meaning they work as unpaid family workers or own-account workers.

Considering all of this, searching for a job in Egypt is daunting, especially for refugees, as they face language barriers, work-permit complications, and various forms of discrimination, on top of the challenges that women face in the workplace more broadly.

On 5 May 2016, Empower Women held a Resume Writing skills workshop in Cairo, Egypt, with a group of female refugees from Ethiopia, Eritrea Somalia and Sudan currently residing in Egypt. The workshop was orchestrated in coordination with local NGOs working with refugees in Egypt and focused on giving these women the skills they need to compose a strong resume to present to employers when applying for job positions.

When asked why the women wanted to attend the resume workshop, we found that several of them had never written a resume before and did not know how to approach the process. Others expressed their status as unaccompanied youth and wanted to help support their siblings, or simply replied that they wanted to become more social, benefit from the English exposure, or prepare to apply for a job after finishing their studies.

Several of the women in the workshop expressed that they were not sure how to market themselves on their resume either because they had not completed their university degree in their home country or they only have volunteer work experience. Among our participants was a group of experienced, qualified, and eager women specialized in nursing, auditing, business, and psychology or pyscho-social work already working as leaders in their communities and recognizing what their immediate circles need and how they can use their skills to contribute.

Many of the women recognized that they had relevant experience but needed to make sure that they did not leave the workshop just knowing how to write a resume or a CV, but knowing how to compose a resume that stands out among all others. We emphasized pointers on formatting, design, and framing the content. Others who were still in school expressed interest in learning the differences between an Academic CV and a normal resume with the intention of applying for scholarships or research positions.

With high school diplomas, undergraduate and graduate degrees, as well as a large repertoire of paid and unpaid community engagement and professional experience, workshop participants are not looking for a resilient life as refugees but for a quality life where they can achieve their aspirations and reach their personal goals.

While refugee women often stuck with manual labour, handicraft work, or work in the informal service sector in their host countries because of their perceived vulnerability, they proved their talents as individuals rather than women within a single category under the cover of the word “refugee”. And this is what we are hoping others will realize after they learn to market their talents, unique qualities, and distinct personalities to employers—that they are not refugees, but women looking to live a dignified life.

Article by Annie Weaver

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