Since the outbreak of COVID-19, emerging data and reports from those on the front lines have shown that all types of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, have intensified.

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) is an international campaign which takes place each year, commencing on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and running until 10 December, Human Rights Day.

Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread human rights violations in the world. It is estimated that one in 3 women and girls experience physical or sexual abuse in their lifetime, most frequently by an intimate partner. During displacement and times of crisis, the threat of GBV significantly increases for women and girls.

GBV has both immediate and long-term physical, mental and sexual impacts on women and girls, ultimately affecting their well-being and preventing them from fully participating in society. GBV not only causes pain and suffering but also devastates families, undermines workplace productivity, diminishes national competitiveness, and stalls development.

Sarah, a 24-year-old South Sudanese refugee, conducts a counselling session with a client during a home visit in Kakuma camp.© UNHCR/ Samuel Otieno

Kosida, a 19-year-old Rohingya refugee and volunteer from Myanmar, shares information with women in her community in Kutupalong camp about services available for GBV survivors.
© UNHCR/Hasib Zuberi

Sarah Nyajuok, a 24-year-old South Sudanese refugee living at Kakuma camp in Kenya, decided to train as a community worker after witnessing her mother's experience of gender-based violence.

"I decided to work hand in hand with any organisation giving women rights," she said.

Refugee community workers have been trained by UNHCR’s partner organisation, the Danish Refugee Council, to identify and refer cases of gender-based violence (GBV) – which can include sexual, physical, mental and economic harm. GBV can involve threats of violence, coercion, manipulation, child marriage, female genital mutilation and so-called ‘honour crimes’.

UNHCR works with partners, governments and communities to implement prevention programs. 

In the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, refugee volunteers are reaching out to the women and girls who may be at risk but who lack the ability to access specialised support. Many lack mobile phones to call hotline numbers. But the bigger problem is that many women find it hard to speak out against abusive partners. 

Kosida goes door-to-door in her block at Kutupalong camp, sharing information on services available for GBV survivors and helps them to feel empowered to speak out for their rights.

“It is always difficult for women to speak out against men because they depend on men for their living. If women are not independent, they will always be like this.”

GBV is preventable and UNHCR is committed to promoting gender equality and human rights and to protecting refugees and other persons of concern from GBV. 

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Kosida, a refugee and volunteer from Myanmar says “It is always difficult for women to speak out against men because they depend on men for their living” © UNHCR/Hasib Zuberi

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