While many would view women's empowerment through accomplished and successful careers or their right to whether or not bear a child, Becky Allen has chosen to give voice to female refugees in the U.S. by offering them a platform to share their food recipes.
Allen created a website called Taking Refuge in which she pairs female refugees’ stories with recipes. The website was launched in January 2015 and currently counts 13 recipes and stories of female refugees.
“I chose the recipe because not everybody can relate to the women and the refugee issue while I think everybody can relate to food,” Allen said. “So it is the food aspect that brings them to my blog and maybe they will take the time to look at some of these women’s stories and even learn what they have been through and what they have been able to accomplish.”
One story, “Life with Al Qaeda” features Maryam, an Iraqi refugee, whose father was killed after he was captured by Al Qaeda in a neighborhood of Baghdad in November 2006. “It was like a punishment for letting his sons work with the U.S. forces," Maryam explained, referring to her two brothers who had served as interpreters for the American troops in Iraq. “They couldn't get hold of my brothers because they were at the American base, so they got my father. And then, they sent us a letter saying that we all would be beheaded soon,” the story reads.
Four years after her father's killing, Maryam finally was granted asylum in the U.S. with her mother and brothers in May 2010. When she was interviewed by Allen, Maryam shared two local and traditional recipes: Iraqi falafel made out of chickpeas and a lot of parsley or cilantro and the Muhamarra which is a hot pepper dip originally from Aleppo, Syria.
Allen graduated from Tufts University in Massachusetts where she majored in Middle Eastern studies. Besides her interest in international affairs, Allen has a strong interest in women empowerment and gender equality. She now works at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an American think tank.
Allen says she is aware that women in the kitchen is a long standing stereotype that needs to be eliminated yet she believes that by sharing their recipes, the women are sharing something of which they are proud of and that can be passed on to others.
While existing narratives point fingers at refugees and migrants for burdening societies and taking advantage of host societies’ social and economic benefits, women featured in Taking Refuge are doing the opposite. They are giving back and sharing with others. All women featured in Taking Refuge are living in the U.S. and are refugees from around the world - from Iraq to Laos to Vietnam and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Allen reaches out to the women through the U.S. resettlement agencies and local organizations that work with refugees and women. “Sometimes the women themselves will connect me with other women within the refugee community,” said Allen.
Allen is already thinking of future projects to develop out of Taking Refuge. For instance, she considers creating a cookbook from all the stories and recipes gathered and use some of the funds to give to either resettlement organizations or people helping with the refugee crisis abroad.
Originally published on IOM Blog