From 25 November, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to Human Rights Day on December 10, people in refugee camps and settlements around the world will be taking part in 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence.

UNHCR runs programmes to respond to sexual violence at the onset of an emergency and at all stages of displacement. We provide survivors with medical, psychosocial and livelihood support, provide training for SGBV responders and work to change community attitudes to violence against women.

On the eve of this year's global campaign, we speak with two UNHCR protection officers and SGBV specialists about their work and their plans for the next 16 days.

Constanze Quosh in Italy

Constanze Quosh has been deployed to Italy for six months as a Senior Protection Officer with UNHCR, focusing on SGBV and the implementation of ‘Safe from the Start’ initiatives." SGBV has been reported at alarmingly high rates among new arrivals in Italy, a fact that calls for urgent attention," she says. "The majority of women and girls arriving by sea are survivors of sexual violence, including rape and sexual assault during their journey. Women refer to their transit through Libya in particular as a 'journey through hell'. Of concern too, is the increasing number of victims of trafficking, many of them from Nigeria and many of them children." "My work entails travelling to areas of sea arrivals and reception facilities to support the setting up of an SGBV prevention and response system. We aim to improve the identification and protection of SGBV survivors, and to advocate for the creation of safe environments.”

“The 16 Days of Activism Campaign is an important occasion to raise awareness, rally support to prevent and eliminate SGBV and to celebrate achievements,” says Constanze.

"Because of their continued experience of sexual violence and exploitation, many of the women see SGBV as the normality. This requires careful reframing of their perceptions and comprehensive sexuality education for young people. Many women are giving birth to children who are the result of rape. We will be working with the social workers to address these issues and support these women in developing healthy relationships with their children."

Houda Chalchoul in Central African Republic (CAR)

Senior Protection Officer Houda Chalchoul has recently arrived in CAR, having completed a posting in northern Iraq. “SGBV is one of the major concerns for our operations in CAR," says Houda. “A total of 5,627 incidents were identified in the first six months of this year. Of these, 20 per cent were cases of rape. This does not include cases identified outside our Information Management System, nor the huge number of cases who were unable or unwilling to report. Around a third of the 420,700 people internally displaced by the violence in CAR live in displacement sites where resources and livelihood options are lacking. Women see no option but to fetch water and firewood and cultivate land in areas controlled by armed groups,” says Houda. “Sexual violence is frequently reported.” For the 16 Days of Activism, Houda and her colleagues are planning activities based on this year’s theme: Healthy Relationships at Home, in Schools and in the Community.

“Every year, this international campaign helps to draw global attention to SGBV issues, the need to empower women and girls, and to involve men and boys in ending violence,” she says.

“We are organising focus group discussions with young people, printing post cards on which they will answer questions about their safety concerns. We are conducting sensitisation sessions with teachers, parents and religious leaders to promote and model the behaviours that make for healthy relationships – respect, treating men and women as equals etc. We have met with refugee community leaders and UNHCR field offices to arrange activities such as theatre, art, songs and dance based on this year’s theme.”

Importantly too, UNHCR CAR is helping to develop a set of national SGBV Standard Operating Procedures, which will be validated by the CAR Ministry of Social Affairs and key stakeholders on December 10, the final day of the campaign.

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