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'Prostitution happens a lot, but what can you do? You have to eat'

A new report identifies that women and girls with disabilities are “a particularly at risk group for sexual violence” during humanitarian crises.

A NEW UNITED Nations (UN) report on the challenges faced by women and girls in humanitarian crises has documented the physical and sexual abuse they face.

100m Source: UNFPA

Shelter from the Storm: A Transformative Agenda for Women and Girls in a Crisis-Prone World explores what governments and organisations can do to help women in terms of decreasing violence and increasing access to healthcare and education.

The report, due to be launched today, includes testimonies from women and girls who have endured sexual and physical violence.

Cover image A Syrian woman pictured at the border of Greece and Macedonia. Source: UNFPA/Nake Batev

The document notes that gender-based violence against women and girls “often thrives in humanitarian crises”.

In settings as diverse as Myanmar, Somalia and Syria, sexual violence is described as “widespread” and a “significant threat”.

P.4_Burundi refugees_UNFPA-Sawiche Wamunza Burundi asylum seekers in Tanzania. Source: UNFPA/Sawiche Wamunza

Refugees and internally-displaced women and girls are particularly at risk, including in refugee camps, temporary shelters and evacuation centres.

maternity Source: UNFPA

The report identifies that women and girls with disabilities are “a particularly at risk group for sexual violence because of their limited mobility and ability to communicate, and their social exclusion and greater likelihood of poverty”.


The UN notes that the risk of human trafficking and transactional sex increases in crisis-affected environments and “in particular displacement settings where livelihood opportunities are particularly limited”.

A resident of a camp in Croix-de-Bouquets, Haiti said:

People will try to survive by the way they can. Women have relationships with men so they can feed their children. That happens a lot … It’s not good to make prostitution (sic), but what can you do? You have to eat.

The report states: “Perpetrators may be partners, relatives, state and non-state armed forces, camp officials, teachers and, in some instances, even peacekeepers and aid workers. And they may be male or female.”

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‘We could not protect her, she had to get married’

In 2014, Save the Children noted that people under the age of 18 often make up the majority of victims of sexual violence in conflict-affected countries.

Clinic at Deir Alla Syrian refugee women, along with some Jordanians, visit a family care clinic in Deir Alla, west of Jordan. Source: UNFPASalah Malkawi

In the UN report, a Syrian mother in Lebanon spoke of how she married off her daughter at 16 as a form of protection.

We were too worried for her. They were attacking women. We could not protect her, so we had to marry her … She did not want to get married, she wanted to study.

boko Services and supplies provided from January to September 2015 in Lake Chad Basin countries affected by the Boko Haram crisis. Source: UNFPA

The report notes that gender-based violence also increases following humanitarian disasters in developed countries:

  • Nepal earthquake: Counsellors and others involved in humanitarian response in Nepal observed a “dramatic increase” in sexual and domestic violence against women since the earthquake;
  • Cylones Vania and Atu: In Vanuatu, which already has high rates of gender-based violence including intimate partner violence, a counselling centre recorded a 300% increase in referrals following the cyclones in 2011;
  • Developed countries: Increased intimate partner violence was also reported following the Black Saturday bushfires in Australia (2009), after the Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand (2011), in Japan following the earthquake (2011), after Hurricane Katrina in the United States (2005), and following the Indian Ocean Tsunami (2004).

Shelter from the Storm will be launched in Dublin this afternoon by junior minister Seán Sherlock (who is responsible for overseas development assistance) and Jacqueline Mahon, Senior Policy Advisor at the United Nations Population Fund, in an event organised by the Irish Family Planning Association.

More information on the report can be found here.

Read: The case for war: Reasons for and against bombing Islamic State in Syria

Read: Assad says there’s one quick way to achieve peace in Syria

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Órla Ryan

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