Saturday, 18 November 2017

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The Nansen Award recognises the Butterflies' effect

Photo by UNHCR  L. Zanetti

29 September 2014 – When fighting erupted between rival armed groups in her village in western Colombia’s Valle de Cauca province in 2001, Benedicia Benancia and her seven young children fled by boat. “We had to escape the gunfire around us. It was immediate. We ran for our lives”, she recalled.

Benedicia is one of over 50 million people have been forcibly displaced around the world. In total, there are more displaced people today than after the Second World War. Yet, rather than let her circumstances bring her down, Benedicia joined the Butterflies.

Benedicia Benancia. Photo by UNHCR L. Zanetti  2014A women’s rights network in Colombia, the Butterflies are made up of 100 core volunteers; many of whom, like Benedicia, are themselves displaced persons or victims of domestic or sexual abuse. Together they provide one-on-one support for victims of abuse and reaches out into communities to educate women and put pressure on the authorities to uphold women’s rights.

As conflicts, natural disasters and political turmoil continue to shake regions around the world; thousands of people like this step up in an effort to provide aid, relief or even basic comfort to those who need it most. In honor of this outstanding service, the UNHCR annually awards the Nansen Refugee Award to an individual, group, or organization that have labored to help the cause of refugees, displaced or stateless people.

A tradition dating back to 1954, the Nansen Refugee Award has recognized 60 years of dedicated individuals or groups who have provided extraordinary service to the forcibly displaced. From Eleanor Roosevelt to Angélique Namaika, six decades of humanitarians have received this award.

Today, as the Nansen award ceremony takes place in Geneva, hosted by UNHCR special envoy Angelina Jolie, the Butterflies will be recognised for their work. They place themselves in danger to help women access medical and psychological care and accompany them to report crimes. Through regular workshops they also teach women practical skills allowing them to make a living and know their rights. Thus far, Butterflies volunteers have turned around the lives of more than 1000 women and their families.

The award comes with a prize of $100,000 USD donated by the governments of Norway and Switzerland. In close consultation with UNHCR, the laureate uses the monetary prize to fund a project that compliments their existing work.

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