Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is a violation of human rights. It denies the human dignity of the individual and hurts human development. UNHCR is committed to ending all forms of SGBV by working to prevent such violence before it happens and responding to the needs of all survivors, who can be women and girls as well as men and boys.
Women and girls all over the world are at risk of violence—however women and girls forced to flee their homes due to conflict are more vulnerable to sexual violence. Regions which experience high levels of displacement see corresponding levels of violence against women and girls.
of all marriages by Syrian refugees living in Jordan now involve a child below the age of 18, compared to 13% prior to the civil war
of women worldwide will experience violence in her lifetime
of refugee and migrant sea arrivals to Europe are women and children, at high risk of sexual exploitation and abuse as they seek safety and shelter
countries outlaw same sex acts, punishable by beatings, jail and even the death penalty in some instances
“They tortured and beat us severely.” Nadia*, a 23 year old transgender woman – describing her abduction by an extremist militia in her native Iraq, which led her to flee across the Middle East in search of safety. She is now under the protection of UNHCR in Lebanon.
What is UNHCR doing to help?
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is committed to ending all forms of sexual and gender-based violence, by working to prevent violence before it happens and responding to the needs of all survivors.
From the first moment of registration, UNHCR works to identify survivors so we can follow up with medical treatment, counselling or whatever is needed. In camps and cities, for example, we make sure victims are not housed with perpetrators.
UNHCR provides survivors of sexual violence with:
- HEALTH CARE: emergency medical treatment is given to SGBV survivors including HIV and STI preventative treatments, post-rape prophylactics and medical aid for injuries sustained.
- PROTECTION: safety services are provided to survivors including women/children only spaces, secure shelters, legal support and, where possible, the punishment of offenders.
- PSYCHOLOGICAL CARE: we provide survivors with the support and tools needed to deal with personal trauma and possible social exclusion.
Surviving and Thriving: moving past violence
As well as providing immediate emergency care for refugees and displaced persons experiencing violence, UNHCR also works to ensure that violence is prevented in the future, and that survivors of violence can not only survive, but thrive into their future.
Throughout their time in exile, UNHCR helps refugee children go to school, which educates children on SGBV and can identify children at risk of such violence and connect them to appropriate services.
We also provide vocational training and psychosocial support to SGBV survivors, including through special safe spaces for women in camps, where women can connect to support services and learn new skills (such as sewing or cooking) to help them earn an income and support their families.
UNHCR also works closely with governments and partners to provide support for changes to legislation and court practices, for the well-being of SGBV survivors.
Tales of Courage and Survival
This Ethiopian refugee, 22, fled her country alone when she was 17. Her father, an Oromo language teacher, was accused by local authorities of supporting a separatist political group. She got married in Somaliland to an Ethiopian refugee whose life was threatened by a gang in Hargeisa. “One of them claims he is in love with me, that I must marry him, otherwise, he would kill my husband. I am therefore in hiding with my child in this safe house. My husband moved to another part of town, and we do not see each other often. I don't know to resolve this situation, wish I was dead”, she said.
People can be seen walking past a rainbow flag painted on the side of a wall in the Castro District of San Francisco. Today, the Castro's queer identity is itself a tourist attraction, beckoning throngs of pilgrims and revelers from all over the world. UNHCR is working to ensure that LGBTI refugees are safe from persecution.
15-year-old Syrian refugee Omaima at a drawing class she teaches at to raise awareness of the dangers of early marriage to her classmates at Za'atari refugee camp. Omaima, from Dara'a, fled Syria with her family after her close uncle was killed and felt it was no longer safe for them to stay in Syria. When Omaima first arrived at Jordan’s Za’atari camp in 2012, the 11-year-old refugee from Syria was not aware of the issue of early marriage. Then some of her classmates started vanishing. "When I got to sixth grade [in 2013], I started hearing about girls as young as 12 or 13 getting married. They would come to the school to say goodbye. I remember thinking they were making a big mistake, even before I knew the facts,” Omaima speaks of young girls at her school at Za'atari refugee camp. Omaima runs painting and acting classes to educate young girls and parents on underage marriage.
27-year-old Max has found shelter at UNHCR funded Belen Shelter in southern Mexico after fleeing his home in Honduras, where he was threatened by gangs and told to sell drugs or be killed. The gangs used the knowledge of his sexuality as a way to further pressure him. Max is applying for asylum in Mexico. “I miss the moments with my younger brothers and my family and worry they are facing reprisals but in Mexico, people are more accepting of me as a gay man and I at least feel safe here.” Mexico has seen a dramatic increase in the number of people seeking safety on its soil, as more and more people flee a surge in violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
How our supporters have helped
reports of SGBV incidents for which survivors received legal assistance
reported SGBV incidents for which survivors received psychosocial counselling
reported SGBV incidents for which survivors received medical assistance