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Women

Who We Help
© UNHCR/F. Courbet

Particular Challenges and Risks

In many societies, women and girls face specific risks and are less likely than men and boys to have access to their rights, due to their gender roles and position in society. In situations of displacement, these risks – particularly discrimination and sexual and gender-based violence – can be exacerbated. Community support structures break down and traditional or formal justice systems may not uphold women’s rights. Unaccompanied women and girls, women heads of households and pregnant, disabled or older women may face particular challenges.

Women and girls comprise about half of any refugee, internally displaced or stateless population. UNHCR works to promote gender equality and ensure their equal access to protection and assistance. The integration of a gender perspective cuts across all sectors. For example, shelters should be safe for women and offer privacy, and assistance in construction or maintenance should be available. Food distribution systems should take family roles into account and ensure it reaches all. Sanitation facilities should be accessible and separated for men and women. Women should be able to collect water and fuel without risking rape or other abuse.

UNHCR also uses targeted actions to address specific protection needs. Programmes to increase girls’ enrolment and retention in school can overcome economic or cultural barriers to their education. Initiatives to increase women’s leadership and participation in decision-making help to identify and respond to their protection needs. The provision of sanitary materials improves health and increases freedom of movement. Livelihoods support can ensure women are not forced to engage in survival sex to provide for their families.

The UN refugee agency builds upon women’s resilience and strength to support their empowerment and strengthen their protection, and promotes their full participation in all decisions affecting their lives. Despite the many challenges, displacement can enable women to take on new roles and instigate positive change. With the appropriate support, refugee women can improve their lives and the lives of their children, families and communities.

Who We Work With to Help Women

UN agencies, NGOs, grassroots organizations and private-public institutions are included.

Refugeewomen (UNHCR Women and Girls)

Refugeewomen (UNHCR Women and Girls) focuses on women and girls in situations of displacement and promotes gender equality.


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UNHCR Policy on Refugee Women

Introduction, general, the basic principle: mainstreaming/integration, organizational goals, policy objectives, operational objectives.

Sexual and Gender-based Violence against Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons - Guidelines for Prevention and Response

Guidelines offering practical advice on how to design strategies and carry out activities aimed at preventing and responding to sexual and gender-based violence.

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