Women's Refugee Commission records, 1979-2020; 1979-ongoing, bulk 1989-2011

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Women's Refugee Commission
The Women's Refugee Commission was established in 1989 as part of the International Rescue Committee. It advocates for laws, policies, and programs to improve the lives and protect the rights of refugee and internally displaced women, children, and adolescents. Collection includes audiovisual materials (interviews, Voices of Courage luncheons, and footage and photographs from trips to refugee camps); field and research reports; children, education, and youth program materials; foundation files; former board and commission member files; Reproductive Health program materials and reports; Livelihoods program materials and reports; files from executive directors; subject files; board of directors files; and media binders for the Women's Refugee Commission. Countries represented include Cambodia, Afghanistan, Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Thailand, Myanmar, Israel, Guatemala, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan, Liberia, Kosovo, Iraq, Zambia, Tanzania, the United States, and others. Material predating the founding of the Commission primarily includes photographs from UNHCR and other organizations. Acquired as part of the Human Rights Archive.
55.6 Linear Feet
0.92 Gigabytes
36,200 Items
Majority of material in English
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

The collection is organized into several series, each representing different operations within the Women's Refugee Commission.

The Audiovisual Materials series includes tapes in a variety of formats documenting speaking engagements, luncheons, and interviews with WRC staff; raw footage of trips to refugee camps and field visits with refugees around the world; and recordings of testimony and other projects highlighting the experiences of refugee women and children. This series also includes over 5,000 photographs, slides, and negatives documenting trips to refugee camps and the activities of refugees around the world. Access is RESTRICTED: use copies are required for access.

The Printed Materials and Publications series consists largely of the publications and documentation produced by the Women's Refugee Commission staff about refugee conditions in crisis situations around the world. Trip reports constitute a large portion within the series, covering visits to refugee camps in Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, and United States prisons (where asylum seekers are detained). Also included are public reports and guidelines on issues like domestic and gender-based violence; reproductive health and the Minimum Initial Service Package (MISP); armed conflict and its effects on children; and fuel alternatives and strategies. Drafts of publications, newsletters from the WRC, and a small amount of drawings by refugee children make up the rest of this series.

The Children, Youth, and Education series includes a variety of materials from that WRC program, including additional reports and guidelines. A large component consists of reports, meetings, and other files from the Education in Emergencies initiative.

The Foundations series includes name files for various foundations, trusts, and charities who support the operations of the Women's Refugee Commission. Also included are name files for former board members and commissioners.

Protection Program is a small series with materials from the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) group and meeting files from the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).

The Reproductive Health series is a large series with several subseries, all relating to the activities of the Reproductive Health program. One such subseries is the Reproductive Health Response in Conflict (RHRC) Consortium's historical documents, which includes meeting files, conference and event materials, annual reports, and some photographs. Another subseries is United States government-funded projects, covering HIV/AIDS and gender-based violence. Emergency Obstetric Care (EmOC) projects, Thai-Burma border trafficking research, donor files, and subgrantee files make up the remainder of the series. The majority of the Reproductive Health series is restricted.

The Media series consists of newspaper clippings and printouts regarding refugee sitations and the Women's Refugee Commission's coverage in the media.

The Social Protection and Livelihoods series includes program materials and evaluations, with heavy documentation for the Age, Gender and Diversity Mainstreaming (AGDM) Initiative project and its various implementations around the world. Also included in this series are reports and research relating to the Livelihoods program, WRC general information and materials, strategic planning for the group, and board and delegation visits, meetings, and agendas.

The Subject Files series includes topical files primarily related to refugee women and their organizations; issues, such internal displacement, habitat, literacy, and resettlement; the Commission's participation and protection project; and education, especially in emergencies and for girls and adolescents. Other files are related to the Commission's partners in refugee work.

The Executive Director Files series includes materials from Executive Directors Mary Diaz, Carolyn Makinson, and Sarah Costa, such as summary reports and correspondence from all of the WRC programs, UN Security Council Resolutions and other WRC-related initiatives, Board of Director meeting packets, and files for individual board members, commissioners, experts, and fundraisers.

The Board of Directors (BOD) Files series contains primarily board member packets and planning documents for Commission board meetings between 1997-2014. Some board member packets also contain Advocacy Day materials. There are also items related to the Excecutive and Nominating Committee meetings, as well as packets on specialized topics, such as peace initiatives and the Bureau of Public Affairs in the U.S. Department of State. There are a few files related to Board mailings, donors, and potential commissioners.

D.C. Office Files are CLOSED for 20 years (until 2031) unless prior permission is received from the donor. The series includes files on Haiti, Gender, Detention and Asylum, and other programs run through the D.C. office.

The New York Office Files includes material related to the rebranding of the Commission's logo and general design issues, planning anniversary celebrations, launches for reports and book publications, and general files on communications and accountability working groups.

Acronyms frequently used in the collection:

  • AGDM: Age Gender Diversity Mainstreaming
  • CSW: Commission on the Status of Women
  • EmOC: Emergency Obstetric Care
  • GBV: Gender-based Violence
  • INS: Immigration and Naturalization Service (US)
  • IRC: International Rescue Committee
  • MISP: Minimum Initial Service Package
  • RH: Reproductive Health
  • RHC: Reproductive Health in Crises
  • RHRC: Reproductive Health Response in Conflict Consortium
  • SIPA: School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University
  • UNFPA: United Nations Population Fund
  • UNHCR: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
  • WPS: Women, Peace, and Security
  • WRC: Women's Refugee Commission

Biographical / historical:

The Women's Refugee Commission, originally known as the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, was founded in 1989 by Catherine O'Neill, Liv Ullmann, Susan Forbes Martin, and Susan Stark, with the support of the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Mary Anne Schwalbe served as the founding director, from 1989 to 1994. She was followed by executive directors Mary Diaz, 1994-2004, Carolyn Makinson, 2004-2010, and Sarah Costa, 2010 to the present. The organization aims "to ensure that the voices of refugee women are heard and to provide these women and their families with the best opportunities for safe, productive lives and a future without fear."

Today there are several programs within the Women's Refugee Commission, including Reproductive Health, Fuel & Firewood Initiative, Livelihoods, Youth, Disabilities, Detention & Asylum, and Gender. To address the needs of displaced women, children, and youth, the WRC staff works with local humanitarian groups to document best practices, propose solutions, and lobby for improvements in refugee policies and protections within the United States and at the United Nations.

For more information on the activities and history of the Women's Refugee Commission, visit their website: www.womensrefugeecommission.org

Acquisition information:
The Women's Refugee Commission records were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library as a gift in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2016.
Processing information:

Processed by Meghan Lyon, November 2009

Encoded by Meghan Lyon, November 2009

Encoded by Clare Callahan, August 2012

Addition 2016-0110 processed and encoded by Alice Poffinberger, October 2018, July 2019

Web content described by Michelle Runyon, May 2020.

Materials may not have been ordered and described beyond their original condition.

Accessions described in the finding aid: 2009-0235, 2010-0122, 2011-0068, 2011-0131, 2012-0150, 2016-0110

Physical location:
For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard


Using These Materials

Using These Materials Links:

Using These Materials


Original audiovisual materials are closed to use. Contact Research Services for the production of listening or viewing copies.

In addition, the Reproductive Health Program Series and Washington DC Office Files Series are restricted: patrons must have prior permission to access all or parts of these series. Please review the access notes for each individual series and contact Rubenstein Research Services for information on obtaining permission to access these series.

Collection contains electronic records that may need to be reformatted. Access copies of electronic records must be accessed in our reading room. Contact Research Services for access.

Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. The library may require up to 48 hours to retrieve these materials for research use.

Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to use this collection.

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The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Women's Refugee Commission Records, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.