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.
For survivors, the impact doesn’t end when the violence ends; those who have suffered violence often face severe psychological trauma and stigma from their communities. Many struggle to participate in education, to care for their children and other relatives or to be active in community affairs. And because women are the linchpin of families and communities, particularly during conflict and post-conflict periods, GBV can be a major barrier to future stability, reconstruction and development in war-torn areas.
Gender-based violence is usually committed against women and girls, although sexual violence against men and boys also occurs in conflict and post-conflict settings and must be addressed.
To date, the majority of programs addressing GBV have emphasized the response—that is, caring for survivors after the violence has occurred. While it is critical to ensure that all survivors have access to essential care and services, the humanitarian community must also pay much greater attention to programs that help prevent GBV from occurring in the first place. The WRC has been leading humanitarian thinking on the prevention of GBV and how operational interventions can be implemented to mitigate the risks faced by crisis-affected women and girls.
Women’s Refugee Commission’s Contributions to Addressing GBV
Since its founding in 1989, the Women’s Refugee Commission has been a leading proponent of efforts to promote women’s empowerment, gender equality and protection against GBV. We have advocated for the passage of landmark Security Council resolutions on the protection of women and children. Our groundbreaking 2002 report If Not Now, When? documented the shortcomings of previous efforts to address GBV. This report and others by the Women’s Refugee Commission influenced the development of such standard-setting guidance as the Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s Guidelines for Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings and the Gender Handbook in Humanitarian Action. We also worked closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on the development of its Handbook for the Protection of Women and Girls.
Highlights of Our Current Work
The prevention of GBV continues to be a signature element of the Women’s Refugee Commission’s work that goes across many of our programs. Current initiatives include:
Creating safe economic opportunities for women. Under our livelihoods program, we have developed guidance and tools for the humanitarian community on how to ensure that economic programs for displaced women are effective and safe. In too many humanitarian settings, the livelihoods available to women put very little money in their pockets and often expose them to abuse and exploitation. We are catalyzing the humanitarian community to rethink economic programs. We are training organizations around the world on how to lessen the risks of GBV through well-designed livelihoods programs, and we have developed an e-learning course on these themes as well as reports, Peril or Protection: The Link Between Livelihoods and Gender-based Violence in Displacement Settings, and Preventing Gender-based Violence, Building Livelihoods: Guidance and Tools for Improved Programming, and a 2-minute animated video “Making Work Safe: Safety Mapping Tool.”
Early Relationships and Marriage in Conflict and Post-Conflict Settings: Vulnerability of Youth in Uganda" in Reproductive Health Matters here.
Protecting the rights of female migrants and asylum seekers in the United States. Many women who come to the United States as migrants or asylum seekers are fleeing violence and persecution, including GBV. They are often survivors of domestic violence, rape and trafficking. While these women come to the U.S. seeking to escape this violence, the dangerous journey from their home country further exposes them to the risk of GBV. Once they arrive, they are often held in detention facilities where they are subjected to additional neglect and abuse and are sometimes, again put at risk.
Our Migrant Rights and Justice Program assesses conditions and treatment of detainees in immigration detention facilities. We make recommendations to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on how to reform the system. We successfully advocated to require ICE to comply with the Prison Rape Elimination Act, resulting in critical protections against sexual assault in detention facilities. Our advocacy also resulted in a more open ICE access policy that has increased transparency and accountability. Currently, we are working with ICE to develop a pilot for women in detention that will focus on addressing GBV concerns. Together with organizations in Washington, D.C., and along the U.S. border, we advocate to ensure that Customs and Border Protection implements meaningful screening practices for vulnerable populations and holds accountable those officers who violate U.S. and international laws.