An October 2017 UN WomenBrief on the RohingyaRefugee Crisis Response inBangladesh, East Asia, painted, indetailed and grim exposés, thegender dynamics in this refugeecrisis. The Rohingya, an ethnicgroup a small percentage of whomare Muslims, face one of themost terrible humanitarian crisestoday. The UN High Commissioneron Human Rights described thesituation as a textbook example ofethnic cleansing.

“Almost every woman and girl in

the Balukhali makeshift settlements

(which make up approximately 65%

of the refugees) in Cox’s Bazar is

either a survivor of or a witness to

multiple incidents of sexual assault,

rape, gang rape, murder through

mutilation or burning alive of a

close family member or neighbour.

Women and girls have experienced

sexual and gender based violence,

perpetrated by both the Myanmar

army and by Rakhine locals,” UN

Women reported.

In October 2016, violent conflict

began in Rakhine State. Between

August and October 2017, an

estimated 537,000 Rohingya

refugees had crossed the border

into Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. The

distressed and traumatised displaced

population – approximately 51% of

whom are women and girls – live

in terrible conditions, lacking basic necessities like adequate food, water

and sanitation.

The crisis, which is yet to be resolved,

disproportionately affects women, girls

and the most vulnerable and marginalised

Rohingya refugee population groups

by reinforcing, perpetuating and

exacerbating pre-existing, persistent

gender inequalities, gender-based

violence and discrimination.

The situation is not any better for the

biggest refugee crisis facing Europe

since the end of World War II, the Syrian

refugee crisis. Now in its eighth year,

the Syrian civil war has led to a mass

influx of refugees into the European

border countries of Turkey and Greece,

as well as Germany. The refugees have

also fled to the U.S. and Canada. Syria’s

Asian neighbours, Lebanon and Jordan,

have not been spared the refugee influx

either. Europe also receives refugees

from Africa who brave the dangerous

crossing on the Mediterranean Sea,

mainly from the Libyan coast into Italy.

The infographic published by the Child

Protection Hub for South East Europe

looked at the demographics of the

refugee population arriving in Europe

with a special focus on women and

girls. It summarised key problematic

areas that make refugee women’s and

girls’ experience tougher owing to the

gender perceptions.

In June 2015, the percentage of people

arriving in Europe who were women

and children was 27%. Five months

later, in November, it increased to 40%,

and then shot up to 55% in January

2016. This means war or conflict

displaced more women and children

than men. Yet despite this sharp rise,

Child Protection Hub for South East

Europe noted: “The specific needs and

risks of girls and women, who are more

vulnerable to matters such as sexual

assault and exploitation, are not taken

into consideration sufficiently.”

For the Rohingya refugees, UN Women

reported that many women whose

sexual assault resulted in conception

are reported to have sought out

abortions after arriving in Bangladesh.

“This is a frightening reminder that

sexual and gender based violence are

among the most horrific weapons of war,

instruments of terror most often used

against women,” UN Women stated.

In Uganda, as at 31 December 2017, the

country was hosting 1,336,898 refugees

and asylum seekers. Of these, 689,049

(52%) were females and 647,849 (48%)

were males. Gender-based violence is

often rife in crisis and fragile settings

and women and children suffer

most. UNHCR coordinates all sexual

and gender-based violence (SGBV)

interventions in refugee settlements in

Uganda in coordination with the Office

of the Prime Minister (OPM), UNFPA, UN

WOMEN, UNICEF and partners.

In its 2017 report on SGBV, UNHCR

stated that 5001 new incidents (4,487

females, at 90%) were identified,

managed, documented and reported

from 12 refugee settlements in Uganda.

The most prevalent were physical

assault (1,640, at 33%) followed by

psychological/emotional abuse (1,210,

at 24%), rape (1,035, at 21%), denial

of resources (551, at 11%), sexual

assault (308, at 6%) and forced/early

marriage (257, at 5%). The reported

incidents occurred in both the country

of origin and the country of asylum.

In January 2018, UNHCR reported that

reductions in food assistance in place

since August 2016 for refugees who

arrived prior to July 2015 have led

many refugees, including children, to

cope by eating one meal a day and

by foregoing essential nutrients. This

is the same time when reports of

economic and sexual exploitation

of girls and women refugees have

been massive, particularly the

exchange of food for sex.

There have also been human

trafficking and sexual slavery

involving women and underage

girls. In a media interview with

the Daily Monitor newspaper,

Bornwell Kantende, the UNHCR

Country Representative in Uganda,

lamented the existence of such

incidents. “These are serious issues

which touch on the dignity of

refugees, and we do everything we

can to address them, so the victims

can keep reporting them,” he said.

He, however, stated that measures

are being implemented to address

the problem: “The allegations are

taken seriously and we do have a

very strict regime in dealing with

them. We have a zero tolerance for

sex abuse and exploitation.”

Funding is a strong factor in

humanitarian action. But while

funding can be a game-changer,

there are disparities in funding

that specifically address gender

issues in crisis settings. According

to women’s rights advocacy

organisation, Women Deliver, in

2014, less than 1% of aid to fragile

states targeted gender equality

significantly. In 2017, Uganda held

the Uganda Solidarity Summit for

Refugees to try to raise money to

respond to the growing refugee

crisis. Though USD 358 million

or USh.1.2 trillion was pledged,

what percentage of this would

specifically address gender factors,

no one knows. It also remains to

be seen how the world and Uganda

will effectively address or respond

to the growing refugee crises where

gender disparities are apparent.