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Risk of sexual and gender-based violence rises after disasters: report

Risks include sexual harassment, child marriage, child sexual abuse, domestic violence and trafficking.

Tuesday 24 July 2018 — A report released today has found that that the risk of sexual and gender-based violence including domestic violence and forced marriage increased after disasters in three South-East Asian countries.

The report, The Responsibility to Prevent and Respond to Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Disasters and Crises, is the result of household surveys and focus groups involving 1,800 people affected by disasters in Indonesia, Lao PDR and the Philippines.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) report shows a rise in risks of forms of sexual and gender based violence including sexual harassment, child marriage, child sexual abuse, domestic violence and trafficking.

Veronica Bell, from Australian Red Cross International Programs, which provided input to the report, says while research in Australia and other developed economies has shown that the risk of sexual and gender-based violence can increase after disasters, few studies have focused on low-income countries.

“To our knowledge this is the first study that focusses on the risks of post-disaster sexual and gender-based violence for men, boys, sexual minority groups such as gay men and boys, lesbian women and girls, and transgendered people across several low-income countries.

“It shows there’s an increase in the risk of harassment and assault, child marriage, child sexual abuse, domestic violence and trafficking after disasters, which are often life threatening and affect people’s daily life, dignity, rights, livelihoods and health,” Ms Bell says.

The report gives clear and compelling guidance for change at a local, country, regional and global level.

“Those most at risk were adolescent girls, followed by adolescent boys and older women.

“We must do more to protect people after disaster. Governments and aid agencies should take steps to protect groups at risk of sexual and gender-based violence including through measures such as evacuation shelters with separate spaces for women and men, separate lockable toilets, adequate lighting, legal information or referral to local specialised support services. A failure to do so is often caused by a lack of coordination among disaster responders, know-how or resources.

“The report gives clear and compelling guidance for change at a local, country, regional and global level. In direct response to this report, the IFRC and Australian Red Cross are already running longer-term community based programmes to address issues identified in the report, including psychosocial support, legal awareness, health and behaviour change to address the underlying causes of this violence – gender inequality and abuse of power.” We are training staff and volunteers to prevent, mitigate, and respond to sexual and gender-based violence in emergencies, and focusing on stronger coordination among disaster responders and with local specialist service providers.

The Responsibility to Prevent and Respond to Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Disasters and Crises is the result of a collaboration between the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Committee for Disaster Management (ACDM) Prevention and Mitigation Working Group.

Note: Globally one in three women is affected by physical and/or sexual violence during her lifetime (WHO, 2013). The majority of this violence is between partners. Almost 750 million women and girls alive today were married before the age of 18 (UNICEF, 2017). Sexual violence against men and boys has been reported in 25 conflict affected countries in the past decade (ODI, 2014) and sexual minority groups are also at risk due to the high levels of discrimination they face worldwide.

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