Time to redraw the balance to end gender based violence in emergencies
Due to the gender-structured, unequal roles of women and men, disasters and crises impact women, men, girls, and boys in radically different ways. The change in social, cultural, and political structures redefines women’s and men’s statuses – in both positive and negative ways.
Men, women, boys, and girls participate in conflict and violence differently. Most combatants, for instance, are male and male civilians are often targeted or singled out during massacres. As a result, men and boys account for the majority of those killed. Girls and women, on the other hand, often face increased risks from displacement and increased burden of care-tasks, such as provision of food and water, and caring for the sick and injured.
Additionally, girls are often more vulnerable to disasters because of widespread disadvantages. Their access to and control over resources, both social and economic, are often more limited; their access to education is also usually lower, and caring responsibilities fall predominantly on their shoulders. Other causes of vulnerability (such as age, class, ethnicity, and disability) may compound gender inequality but women, generally form the biggest number of marginalized persons of concern.
Gender based violence often increases in times of crisis because of several factors, including: a breakdown of law and order leading to impunity of the perpetrators of violence; risks associated with displacement; and the use of rape as a weapon of war. Domestic violence, which can be exacerbated by the availability of weapons, also increase during and after conflict. Most cases of gender based violence are against women and girls, but that’s not to say that men and boys don’t suffer violence.Gender based violence in emergencies is worsened by men’s loss of power and respect, manifested in their inability to provide for their family’s basic needs.
In an emergency, both women and men become dependents on the United Nations and other implementing partners where everything is being provided to them, though not adequately as expected. Many women have thus labeled men as “wives of UNHCR” a statement that is rather disempowering and reemphasizes the loss of power especially for men where society has indigenously constructed them to be the bread winners.
During and outside of crises women are continuously forced into marriage by cultural pressures and the lack of livelihood opportunities. In emergencies, women and girls are sometimes forced to engage in sex in exchange for money, resources, or access to services and assets. Measures of the impact of armed conflict and violence often focus on fatalities, not, for example, gender based violence, and therefore the experience of girls and women tends to be less visible in determining responses.
What we need to not is that while such crises create risk and can aggravate inequalities, they also provide opportunities for change. Crises can challenge discriminatory gender norms and unequal power relations, enabling both women and men to reflect on existing gender roles, and to view and value the traditional roles differently. For example, in conflict situations women can assume prominent roles in peace building and mediation, and men may take on greater care responsibilities.
Promoting women’s leadership and participation in humanitarian programs and policymaking spaces is critical to ensure that responses support women in their efforts to challenge gender inequality. Women and girls are not simply victims of crises, but have ambitions, expertise, and skills. It is also critical to engage men and boys in challenging the attitudes and beliefs that undermine women’s rights, and to promote positive masculinities and acceptance of gender equality. Addressing these concerns, particularly by promoting cooperation between women and men, reaps almost immediately visible economic and personal dividends and thus reduces occurrences of gender-based violence among persons of concern
The 2017 16 days of activism campaign placed stronger emphasis than in previous years on the human rights framework and called upon actors to recognize gender-based violence as a human rights violation. The time has come to redraw the balance. Gender stereotypes are constructed from childhood and are continually reconstructed as one continues to grow. Deconstructing them demands that we start at a tender age and on the onset of the response. Deconstructing these stereotypes should be something that we greatly emphasize and continue to emphasize in our programming. Gender based violence occurs to men and women depending on who is socialized to be weaker, so the onus is on everyone of us to ACT NOW for that is the only way we can eliminate gender based violence for good.