Rescue4Children are committed to supporting equality and empowerment of women and girls.
As part of the UNHCR’s 60th anniversary commemorations and its commitment to give female refugees a voice, UNHCR conducted a series of seven consultations with refugee women on five continents. The “Survivors, Protectors, Providers” dialogues have given us a clearer picture of refugee women’s concerns and their suggestions as to what should be done to tackle them.
UNHCR worked with the Centre for Refugee Research at the University of New South Wales in Australia to consult over 1,000 asylum-seeking, refugee, internally displaced, and stateless women and girls, as well as 200 men and boys. They spoke about the risks women and girls face in their country of origin, during flight and in asylum, about their protection needs and their proposed solutions to their problems.
The research found that women and girls are less likely than refugee men and boys to have access to even the most fundamental of their rights. This includes their right to food, health care, shelter, nationality, and documentation. They may face discrimination in many aspects of their lives and may be caught up in conflict, which forces them to flee. This can expose them to further risks during flight and in the countries where they seek safety.
The dangers women and girls face are often related to the gender roles assigned to them and to the lack of gender equality between the sexes. Gender is not static or innate but is continually changing, and the gender roles and functions that women and men fulfil are often changed as a result of displacement and all concerned must readjust.
The roles assigned to women and men and their position in society influence the types of harm to which they are exposed. Men and boys are, for instance, more likely to be subject to forced military recruitment. Women and girls are more often subject to sexual violence, including domestic violence and trafficking. They are also at risk of a whole range of harmful traditional practices, including female genital mutilation, forced or early marriage, “corrective rape”, and so-called honour crimes. Often this harm is inflicted in the domestic sphere by private actors rather than the state. This can lead to difficulties “proving” the persecution they have suffered. It can lead to poor assessment of issues such as the availability of state protection and of internal flight or relocation possibilities.
UNHCR’s research found that women and girls face specific gender-based risks in every aspect of their lives. Their concerns differ depending on whether they are in camps or in cities, but everywhere refugee women and girls face sexual and physical abuse at endemic levels. They are discriminated against in legal systems, in access to work permits, at health centres, in schools and on leadership boards. Even people working with them, who were aware of the problems, were shocked at the extent and the horror of the experiences so many of the women described.
Young children face risks when there is no childcare. Mothers have sometimes to leave their children locked in huts or rooms when they go out to work, in an attempt to protect their children from abuse. In schools, teachers abuse their position of authority over refugee children, resulting in psychological trauma, sexually transmitted diseases, and teenage pregnancies, as well as high dropout rates and fear of school amongst many children, once they have left the refugee camps.