One of the most significant challenges refugees face is insecurity. After fleeing violence in their home countries, refugees often arrive to a country of asylum and continue to deal with issues of safety. They might not have any documentation, they might be alone and often they do not speak the language. These challenges put them at risk of violence, including violence related to gender.
Gender based violence (GBV), defined as “violence that is directed at a person on the basis of sex including acts that inflict mental or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty,” is a major concern for RefugePoint and other agencies working with refugees. This is such a widespread problem that refugee related agencies in Nairobi have joined together in a network to discuss issues specifically regarding GBV in the community.
Recently, RefugePoint staff met with members of this network to discuss problems regarding GBV among refugees in Nairobi, including the increase in cases of forced marriage, early marriage, women and girls being locked in homes, prostitution and child sexual abuse.
Although GBV affects men, women and children are more often the victims. Within Kenya, from 2001 to 2004, there has been a 46% percent increase in the number of rapes reported at police stations, and a main hospital in Nairobi indicates that 55% of their sexual assault patients are under the age of 15. Many refugees however, do not report their incidents of GBV, therefore we can infer that the percentage is even higher among displaced populations in Nairobi.
With this in mind, each year there is a global campaign called the 16 Days of Activism to raise awareness surrounding GBV. Activities take place between November 25th (International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women) and December 10th (International Human Rights Day). While women and children are disproportionately affected by GBV, the attitudes of men are extremely important in preventing GBV. It is with this understanding that the motto for 2010 is “Break the silence, stop the violence.” The focus will be on getting men involved in the fight against violence and helping to change the attitudes men have which can lead to GBV.
As for Nairobi, December 1st will be the major day of activity. I am looking forward to this and will be sure to report back. This is an international campaign so there will be activities around the globe. Be sure to look into what is going on in your area!
For more information regarding the 16 Days visit UNIFEM.
For more information regarding GBV among refugees refer to “If Not Now, When? Addressing Gender-Based Violence in Refugee, Internally Displaced and Post-Conflict Settings” by the Women’s Refugee Commission.