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UNHCR helps Central Europe tackle sexual and gender-based violence

News Stories, 3 July 2008

© UNHCR/B.Szandelszky
The standard operating procedures will help protect female refugees like these in Ljubljana.

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia, July 3 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency's efforts to protect women and children refugees from violence throughout Central Europe came a step closer recently when Slovenia agreed to include refugees and asylum seekers in prevention and response mechanisms for those at risk.

At a ceremony in Ljubljana on June 20, World Refugee Day, the Slovenian government adopted UNHCR's standard operating procedures (SOPs) for responding to and preventing cases of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) against refugees and asylum seekers.

Slovenia became the fifth Central European country to introduce such SOPs within the past year, following Slovakia, Bulgaria, Poland and Romania. Hungary is expected to sign on soon. The efforts in the region are part of a worldwide UNHCR campaign to establish institutional protection mechanisms in all locations where refugees and asylum seekers are accommodated.

At the signing ceremony on June 20, Slovenia's ministries of justice and interior as well as UNHCR and several non-governmental organizations pledged cooperation in fighting sexual and gender-based violence.

"The governments [in Central Europe] already have systems in place to deal with such cases," Lloyd Dakin, UNHCR's regional representative, noted after the ceremony. "Our task was to make sure that refugees and asylum seekers are covered by them as well."

It took months to negotiate and draft a set of mechanisms for the prevention, monitoring and evaluation of cases of violence against women and children refugees in Slovenia and to enshrine these in the SOPs.

"We have reached a common understanding on the roles and responsibilities. The next step is to make sure that each resident of each refugee facility in the region and every [UNHCR] staff member knows what to do if someone becomes the victim of sexual or gender-based violence or [if] there are reasons to suspect such a problem exists in the community," Dakin noted.

UNHCR is also helping to spread awareness among refugees and asylum seekers about the new SOPs in Central European countries. It is developing posters and leaflets that are easy for everyone to understand, including those with weak literacy levels.

There are 125 registered refugees and 115 asylum seekers in Slovenia, with most coming from Serbia and Montenegro, followed by refugees from Iran, Russia and Africa.

Refugees, particularly women and girls, are vulnerable to sexual, physical or psychological violence in host countries. SGBV includes domestic violence as well as rape, sexual abuse and sexual harassment, intimidation at work and school, human trafficking and forced prostitution.

By Melita H. Sunjic in Ljubljana, Slovenia




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How UNHCR Helps Women

By ensuring participation in decision-making and strengthening their self-reliance.

UNHCR's Dialogues with Refugee Women

Progress report on implementation of recommendations.


Women and girls can be especially vulnerable to abuse in mass displacement situations.

Capacity Building

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We help refugees, refugee returnees and internally displaced people tap their potential and build a platform for a better future.

Women in Exile

In any displaced population, approximately 50 percent of the uprooted people are women and girls. Stripped of the protection of their homes, their government and sometimes their family structure, females are particularly vulnerable. They face the rigours of long journeys into exile, official harassment or indifference and frequent sexual abuse, even after reaching an apparent place of safety. Women must cope with these threats while being nurse, teacher, breadwinner and physical protector of their families. In the last few years, UNHCR has developed a series of special programmes to ensure women have equal access to protection, basic goods and services as they attempt to rebuild their lives.

On International Women's Day UNHCR highlights, through images from around the world, the difficulties faced by displaced women, along with their strength and resilience.

Women in Exile

Refugee Women

Women and girls make up about 50 percent of the world's refugee population, and they are clearly the most vulnerable. At the same time, it is the women who carry out the crucial tasks in refugee camps – caring for their children, participating in self-development projects, and keeping their uprooted families together.

To honour them and to draw attention to their plight, the High Commissioner for Refugees decided to dedicate World Refugee Day on June 20, 2002, to women refugees.

The photographs in this gallery show some of the many roles uprooted women play around the world. They vividly portray a wide range of emotions, from the determination of Macedonian mothers taking their children home from Kosovo and the hope of Sierra Leonean girls in a Guinean camp, to the tears of joy from two reunited sisters. Most importantly, they bring to life the tremendous human dignity and courage of women refugees even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Refugee Women

Statelessness and Women

Statelessness can arise when citizenship laws do not treat men and women equally. Statelessness bars people from rights that most people take for granted such as getting a job, buying a house, travelling, opening a bank account, getting an education, accessing health care. It can even lead to detention.

In some countries, nationality laws do not allow mothers to confer nationality to their children on an equal basis as fathers and this creates the risk that these children will be left stateless. In others, women cannot acquire, change or retain their nationality on an equal basis as men. More than 40 countries still discriminate against women with respect to these elements.

Fortunately, there is a growing trend for states to remedy gender discrimination in their nationality laws, as a result of developments in international human rights law and helped by vigorous advocacy from women's rights groups. The women and children depicted here have faced problems over nationality.

Statelessness and Women

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