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Joint press release: Forcibly Displaced Women at High Risk of Gender-Based Violence in Latin America, UNHCR and HIAS Study Finds

Joint press release: Forcibly Displaced Women at High Risk of Gender-Based Violence in Latin America, UNHCR and HIAS Study Finds

Three out of five forcibly displaced women feel that COVID-19 has put them at greater risk of suffering violence related to their gender.
9 December 2022
A Nicaraguan asylum-seeker protects her identity as she gazes out to sea in the port of Belize City. She fled Nicaragua after receiving threats from paramilitary groups because she worked for a party opposed to the government, leaving behind her four-year-old daughter.


PANAMA CITY – In contexts of humanitarian crises and forced displacement, the risk of suffering gender-based violence (GBV) rises significantly and disproportionately affects women and adolescent girls, according to a study carried out by UNHCR and HIAS in seven countries in Latin America. The study shows that the risk of GBV is present throughout the entire cycle of forced displacement, in countries of origin, transit, and destination.

In their countries of origin, refugees and forcibly displaced women are often subject to sexual violence, exploitation, and abuse, forcing them to flee for protection.

During their journey, the lack of documentation and resources and the restriction to regularly cross the borders have forced women to use increasingly dangerous routes with the presence of criminal groups and limited institutional response. Seventy-six percent of displaced women who arrived in the country of destination in the second half of 2021 felt unsafe during the journey, a significantly higher figure than those who crossed the border(s) five years ago (42%).

In a new country, forcibly displaced women often experience extreme poverty, the lack of support networks, xenophobia, the impact of uprooting on mental health, and barriers to accessing the asylum system or other regularization procedures. These factors, together with the hyper-sexualization and objectification of women's bodies, increase their exposure to GBV. One in three women surveyed does not feel safe in their host country, and three out of five feel that COVID-19 has increased the risk of suffering GBV.

Survivors of gender-based violence rarely approach service providers due to a lack of trust and fear of being revictimized, retaliated by the perpetrator, detained, or deported.

“Survivors of gender-based violence – particularly the most vulnerable groups, such as indigenous women – face a serious lack of access to support services, including safe spaces for women and girls, safe housing and health care, as well as barriers to justice and protection,” said Cristina Garcia, HIAS’ LAC Regional Director. “These gaps in access to comprehensive case management mechanisms have a negative impact on the safety, care, and recovery of survivors.”

“Our continent is facing an unprecedented situation of displacement, which disproportionately affects millions of women and girls who are victims of violence, abuse, and exploitation,” said José Samaniego, UNHCR’s Regional Director for the Americas. “It is essential to prevent and eradicate all forms of gender-based violence by strengthening the institutional response and empowering communities.”

The study concludes with several recommendations to authorities in host countries, United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations, and civil society actors to strengthen GBV prevention, risk mitigation, and response efforts for forcibly displaced women, including support to attain economic autonomy and access to asylum and other options for regular stay.

Executive summary and full report at https://segurasenmovilidad.org/

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