Thu 25/11/2021 - 17:25

On 23 of November, the Graduate Institute (IHEID) and Switzerland for UNHCR organised a roundtable on the access to higher education for refugee women, with the support of the Women Business Society (WBS) and Giving Women

Higher education makes it possible for a generation of change-makers to take the lead in identifying solutions for refugee situations. Unfortunately, access to it is very limited: only 5% of the world's refugees have access to higher education in 2021. Among women refugees, this percentage is even lower. We took the opportunity of this roundtable to ask one of the speakers, about the importance of this issue today: Atalanti Moquette, the founder of Giving Women, an association of socially engaged women philanthropists who support, through various projects, girls and women in need across the world.

Why is the issue of access to education for refugee women important?

Atalanti Moquette : I think this is true for women in general, and specifically vulnerable women, for whom education represents a way out of precariousness, and a way into a life in which one has options, in which a certain financial autonomy is possible. Moreover, education - especially higher education, at university level - gives women the opportunity to become leaders, and to set an example for other refugee women.

So, it is not only a personal issue for individual refugees, but it’s also an issue for the community as a whole. 

Atalanti Moquette (right), during the roundtable at the Graduate Institute on 23 November 2021. ©Switzerland for UNHCR
Atalanti Moquette (right), during the roundtable at the Graduate Institute on 23 November 2021. ©Switzerland for UNHCR
Being a woman and a refugee. Can we say that is a double challenge when it comes to access to higher education?

AM : If you are a woman, you will always face hurdles when it comes to education. Women often find themselves at the bottom of the list. In most cases, they are either at home taking care of their families, or they have brothers who are given priority when it comes to schooling. So, in terms of social norms, I believe that there are always obstacles.

But let’s not ignore the strength that refugee women, and refugees in general, have, and that we don’t talk about enough: their resilience. They are extremely determined to leave their situation behind; they don't want others to see them just as refugees, and education gives them a new identity and opens doors for them.

What can we do in Switzerland to help refugee women access higher education?

AM : I know that one of Switzerland for UNHCR’s key objectives is to increase access to education for refugee women. First of all, there are a few issues to consider. Funding, which is crucial, is an important part of it, but the money is there, and it can be raised. The other big issues are diploma recognitions and transfers, language barriers, and the academic requirements to get accepted into a programme, and to feel integrated. So, we really need to raise this issue widely, and show the Swiss people that we all have a role to play in making access to higher education possible for refugees in general, and specifically for refugee women.

More information on Aiming Higher, the campaign to expand access to higher education for refugees.