UNHCR marks 16 Days of Activism against Sexual Violence

News Stories, 26 November 2012

© UNHCR/M.Sibiloni
This displaced Congolese woman lays out wood she has collected. Women are vulnerable to violence when out collecting firewood.

GENEVA, November 26 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has reiterated his agency's commitment to countering sexual and gender-based violence and said UNHCR had this year intensified its efforts to improve access to justice for survivors.

"Despite increased awareness of SGBV [sexual and gender-based violence] and efforts to combat it, an alarming number of women continue to face this horrific violation of their rights largely due to the gender inequalities that persist around the world," Guterres said in a message to mark the start yesterday of the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.

"It is crucial that we continue to make SGBV prevention and response a key component of all our operations," he added.

The High Commissioner stressed that SGBV was one of his top concerns, "which is why I have allocated US$6.9 million in 2012 for special SGBV prevention and response projects that are being implemented in 12 country operations."

He said that at a time when UNHCR is responding to several emergencies and continuing its efforts in protracted refugee situations, "it is crucial for us to acknowledge that SGBV interventions can be life-saving." UNHCR has been receiving alarming reports of rapes from one of those emergencies, the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where there has been heavy fighting since the middle of November.

The High Commissioner noted that despite the prevalence of SGBV in all regions of the world, levels of reporting are low. "Numerous cultural and practical barriers prevent survivors from coming forward, and impunity for perpetrators is widespread," he said, adding: "This has prompted us to intensify our efforts to improve access to justice for survivors."

Guterres said activities to prevent and respond to SGBV should form a fundamental part of the UN refugee agency's legal assistance programmes in all contexts. And he noted that UNHCR was also marking this year's campaign by launching an e-Learning course on SGBV to ensure that a wide cross-section of UNHCR staff are equipped with the knowledge and tools to plan and carry out effective, multi-sectoral SGBV programmes.

The 16 Days of Activism is an international campaign originating from the first Women's Global Leadership Institute in 1991. The theme this year is, "From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let's Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women!"

The 16 Days of Activism will run through to International Human Rights Day on December 10. It brings together UNHCR, partners, persons of concern and host communities worldwide in a united call to end sexual and gender-based violence in all its forms. UNHCR will also be highlighting the work of the White Ribbon Campaign, an initiative begun by men to encourage their male peers to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women. People are invited to wear a white ribbon, signifying this pledge.




UNHCR country pages

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.

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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