Gender Specific Issues of Female Refugees

Overview of Representation of Females amongst Refugees:

“Women and girls comprise about half of any refugee, internally displaced or stateless population.”

“… over 50% of the cases of violence against women are not reported.”

By 1998, UNHCR had undergone a ‘perceptible paradigm shift from focusing on women to focusing on gender.’ UNHCR developed a Strategy for Mainstreaming Gender Equality into UNHCR’s Protection and Programmes, the objectives of which included ensuring that UNHCR assesses the implications of all its protection and programme activities for men and women and incorporates strategies to redress any discrimination; creating a permanently gender-sensitive culture within UNHCR; and ensuring that staff are able to apply gender relation analysis, devise strategies to reduce inequities and strengthen the participation of women and communities in resolving protection and assistance problems. This Strategy helped UNHCR to move away from analyzing the different experiences of men and women to undertaking specific programming aimed at redressing gender-based discrimination. This approach was followed in a Gender Training Kit developed by UNHCR in December 2002.

…UNHCR began to realize that improving protection at the field level required a better understanding of the ways in which age, gender and other social and cultural characteristics can create particular protection risks. UNHCR’s age and gender mainstreaming approach was, therefore, expanded to include diversity.

Summary of Some Main Consequences of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence


Injury, disability, death


Reproductive health disorders

Problem pregnancy, difficult labour


Unwanted pregnancy

Unsafe abortions

Depression à chronic illness


Infection, chronic infections

Excessive bleeding



Anger, fear, resentment, self-hate

Shame, insecurity, loss of ability to function in family and society


Sleep and/or eating disorders

Mental illness

Social isolation


Blaming the victim

Isolating/rejecting the victim

Strain on community resources and supports



Strain on already overburdened police and court systems

Inadequate laws governing various forms of sexual and gender-based violence may translate into lack of judicial remedies for victim/survivor; no penal sanctions for perpetrator

Inappropriate judicial responses that further traumatise the victim/survivor, such as early

and forced marriage to the perpetrator

Poor reporting of incidents as a result of lack of confidence in a dysfunctional judicial


Increased incidence of repeat offences against the same victim/survivor or other women or girls in the community



 Victim/Survivor feels insecure, threatened, afraid

Climate of fear and insecurity, either among the entire community or only among women

Community could feel inadequate or powerless for not preventing the violence through forming watch/security groups

Community resorts to vigilante ‘justice’ to protect itself against suspected perpetrators

Social workers and victims/survivors are ostracised”

From UNHCR Website, Women

“Around the world, up to six of every ten women experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. During war or other humanitarian crises—such as the brutal conflict currently occurring in Syria—the risks to women and girls are heightened. With the breakdown of moral and social order that occurs during emergencies, women and girls are particularly vulnerable to physical abuse and exploitation, rape and human trafficking. Perpetrators may be family members, neighbors or others in the community, members of armed groups or, in some instances, humanitarian workers. Even after a crisis abates, gender-based violence (GBV) may continue at high levels as communities struggle to heal and rebuild.”

Women’s Refugee Commission (USA)

“Sexual violence has become a strategic weapon of war used to de-stabilise, punish, coerce and instil terror in refugee populations, and it has been institutionalised in many countries by security forces and places of supposed “refuge”.

“Among the myriad challenges of gender-based violence, the major themes warranting global attention include: viewing sexual assault and violence as security risks; eliminating the culture of impunity for offenders; empowering victims; and creating appropriate facilities for victims.”

The Refugee Irony: Gender-based violence against female refugees in Africa by Liz Miller, The University of Denver

“…the safety illusion of refugee camps…”

Term used by Amnesty International, “No Place for Us Here” (2009)

Pia’s comment: Looking into this issue, including reading some personal stories of refugee women and girls, it quickly becomes clear that the trauma and pain suffered by these victimised girls and women is enormous. Fear of further violence becomes endemic and can shape their personalities and make them vulnerable to further violence.

We also need to remember that often these traumatised women need to continue to care for families, in very difficult circumstances. This very task exposes them to further abuse, as they often are forced to venture out into unsafe communities to earn a living, gathering firewood etc., where perpetrators lie in wait.

They desperately need our prayers and whatever further help the Lord lays on our hearts to provide.