Society keeps disappointing women each and every day. Every other day the news is filled with reports of gender-based violence. A refugee is already a vulnerable person. However, vulnerability differs between men and women refugees. It is an even bigger problem when it comes to women refugees. However, with less than 10 years now to reach 2030 SDG goals, we are forced to look at our failures.
Why is it that this issue is not being given more importance?
Female migration is increasing and so is the vulnerability to exploitation.
When women are fleeing from conflict and death, isn’t it is our responsibility to provide them with an atmosphere that makes it easier for them to adjust to a new world? Women already know the risk of stowing away, however, conditions back home make it absolutely necessary for them to take this journey which could also be their last. In the end, we know it’s desperation that leads someone to risk their lives and look for haven.
Even after escaping home, women live in constant fear. ‘Safe spaces’ aren’t even safe anymore. Once they flee, they hope to seek protection in neighbouring or ‘better-off’ countries where they’re again subjected to the same violation. There’s no global scope for women’s empowerment unless displaced women are safe. Forced migration makes it even more difficult for women to secure a job in a new country.
There’s always going to be a battle between the questions – “Why is the system failing?” or “What can we do to help?”
Sadly, too many states and the UNHCR itself is failing to live up to the standards set by them.
As explained by a UNHCR report: “In many refugee situations, particularly those involving the confinement of refugees in closed camps, traditional behavioural norms and restraints break down. In such circumstances, refugee women and girls may be raped by other refugees, acting either individually or in gangs and self-appointed leaders may thwart attempts to punish the offenders. In certain camp situations, unaccompanied women and girls have been known to enter what is called ‘protection marriages’ in order to avoid sexual assault. The frustration of camp life can also lead to violence, including sexual abuse, within the family.”
This abuse is not only a result of the violation by male refugees inside the camp but the administrative and humanitarian staff too. Imagine finding yourself in a place that’s supposed to be your safe haven but turns out to be even worse than the nation you were escaping. The simple result for deplorable conditions of women in detention camps is the lack of implementation of existing policies that aim to prevent assaults and prioritise dignity.
As far back as 1979, UN Member States focused on finding a way to make the world sheltered and fair for women. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women stipulates that states should utilize important strides towards killing the enforced sexual slavery and trafficking of women. To further emphasise the integrity of women, it also states that women are allowed to get married only with their ‘free and full consent’ to prevent forceful marriages inside the camps.
According to the 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, among other guaranteed rights, women have the right to “the highest standard attainable” and to not be subjected to “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”. The declaration also notes that states have an ‘obligation’ to protect women refugees. Sadly, too many states and the UNHCR itself is failing to live up to the standards set by them. When it comes to this pattern of assault, the first problem lies in access to justice, legal remedies, and reparations.
This abuse is not only a result of the violation by male refugees inside the camp but the administrative and humanitarian staff too.
The human security inside camps has reached a point where issues are directed on a whim. The mentioned global standards are clear and UNHCR, along with NGOs, should make it a point to fill any loophole existing in the rules and have definitive guidelines for responding to sexual assault. However, usage and execution should be as strong as the guidelines mentioned. States must comply with the guidelines and have an arrangement for central issues surrounding the refugee emergency.
Whether in-flight or in-asylum, women’s safety doesn’t just cease to exist because they crossed borders. Men get beaten up, imprisoned and threatened with repatriation. Women are also threatened with repatriation. They, however, are subject to sexual exploitation by guards if they were to be permitted to cross the border. Women who were jailed had to face multiple incidents of sexual assault. Often, women refugees are employed as ‘servants’ who have to provide sexual ‘services’.
Women’s experiences before becoming refugees, in-flight and during asylum, will differ and will inevitably impact their adjustment process. More importantly, these experiences can either lead to empowerment through a process of politicization and self-awareness; or disempowerment (as a result of brutality and violence) – as is generally depicted in the available literature about women refugees.
The experience of being a refugee tends to involve a process of identity formation in terms of discontinuities, continuities, resistance and identity reconstruction. Viewed from this perspective, one should expect that women refugees who have experienced this process of empowerment will become functional and highly-motivated pillars of society and this is one of many crucial reasons as to why host countries should welcome them and their families with dignity.
Featured image used for representative purpose only. Image source: Wikimedia Commons