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Women lead the response to COVID-19 in Displacement Camps Around the World

The COVID-19 has presented an unprecedented emergency globally, with governments responding with restrictions and lockdowns to curb the spread of the virus. Internally displaced persons are particularly vulnerable, with the pandemic having impacted the living conditions and personal circumstances of the displaced persons living in camps and camp-like settings, which made it difficult to implement mitigation measures in many displacement settings. Internally displaced persons in crisis and emergency contexts are disproportionately affected by the pandemic due to their specific needs and vulnerabilities. IDPs already face barriers in accessing with adequate living standards, livelihoods, health and education services, often being excluded from public health measures. Restrictions imposed by Governments to protect public health has impacted IDPs access to livelihood opportunities, healthcare facilities, and has further restricted their movements within camps, and with protection risks exacerbated for women, girls, elderly persons and persons with disabilities. Women, girls and groups-at-risk often have less access to lifesaving information and to participate in camp-life due to existing unequal power dynamics or cultural barriers that restricts their movements. Meaningful, inclusive and representative participation in decision-making and camp governance structures is imperative for good camp management in ensuring that the risks, needs and capacities of women, girls and groups-at-risk are considered and prioritised.   Ensuring meaningful participation of all groups is an essential pillar of good management and is essential in improving humanitarian response, disaster risk reduction, community engagement and support, mitigating GBV and ultimately to ensure accountability towards affected populations. With the meaningful participation of different groups within the displaced community, particularly of women, girls and groups-at-risk, the different needs and capacities can be reflected and addressed.  With women and girls often making up more than half of the displaced population, women’s participation and inclusion in camp governance structures have been traditionally limited and restricted. Women’s participation in decision-making structures enables them to voice their safer concerns and support the identification of responses to mitigate identified GBV risks. In order to ensure women’s participation, specific strategies need to be adopted to ensure representation safely leads to decision-making. Opening opportunities for women and groups-at-risk to increase their involvement community life can lead to better collective action that reflects a participatory and inclusive approach, thus benefits would reach more women, children, families and groups-t-risk. When women and girls are more aware of their rights to participate, understand the purpose and benefits of this, this empowers them to participate in community decisions and advocate for greater inclusion and representation in camp governance structures.   To respond to the most urgent needs of the pandemic, modalities and activities under the Women’s Participation Project were reoriented and adapted to ensure women and girls had access to the relevant information to prevent the spread of the virus in their communities and to promote an active role of women in the COVID-19 prevention and response activities.    One of the main activities implemented as a response to the pandemic was the training and production of non-medical facemasks, through consultations with women’s groups in four countries implementing the Women’s Participation Project: South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia and Bangladesh. In Wau Protection of Civilian (PoC) site in South Sudan, 29 IDP women, including 11 women with disabilities were identified to participate and attend the trainings which covered hand and machine sewing. As a result, the masks produced by this group of women, together with the masks produced with the support of other organisations, covered the entire PoC population.  This activity has been positively received by the women, with women commenting, “with the new skills I learned during the trainings, everybody around my house is reaching out to me to learn how these masks are produced which has given me more weight and value in my community and with the little money I get from selling the masks I am able to improve the small business that I am running at home.”  In Somalia, the facemask activities were implemented in Dollow, where the core group of internally displaced women who participated in the project were located. Once masks had been produced, the women’s group held a discussion with groups-at-risk in the camp where it was decided that the first batch of masks would be distributed to groups-at-risk in the site for free, while the subsequent batches were sold at the local market. One of the women who participated in the activity shared that, “the face mask creation training I received not only helped me participate in the community initiative to fight against COVID-19 in our IDP sites, but also helped me gain the skills I need to provide an income for my family. We are making masks to help people; children and the entire community, protect themselves from the COVID-19.”       With restrictions and lockdowns enforced by the Government of Bangladesh in response to the pandemic, the Women’s Committee in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh – which comprises more than 100 female Rohingya refugee and host community members –  has been on the forefront of the COVID-19 preparedness and response in the camp. Having been trained on COVID-19 health and social measures messaging, the committee has been in the forefront of disseminating these key messages, reaching over 700 women and adolescent girls in their respective communities. The sessions conducted by the Women’s Committee with the community covered COVID-19 symptoms, prevention measures, management of symptoms, referral mechanisms in place, and how to manage rumours and stigmatization.  In Somalia, IOM Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) teams supported IDP women’s groups on Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) which included development and adaptation of RCCE materials on the use of face masks. Moreover, IOM liaised with UNDP for the elaboration of awareness-raising videos to be used during RCCE activities developed in Somali language, covering the topics of non-medical mask making and proper use.   As religion plays a significant role in Somalia, mosques remained open despite the risks of COVID-19 transmission and lack of support to implement COVID-19 risk mitigation measures. To address this, IOM CCCM teams provided cleaning materials and 50 handwashing stations to IDP women, who identified the mosques to distribute the items and install the stations. Moreover, the women’s groups have been working closely with the community and imams (religious leaders) to raise awareness based on the RCCE training received, to mitigate the risk of COVID-19. In total, 200 mosques were supported in three locations: Baidoa, Kismayo and Dollow. The role of women’s groups in responding to COVID-19 has been positively viewed by the religious leaders, with one imam remarking, “This is not only meant for the women but is very essential and inclusive for all genders. It was an integrated approach that mean to prevent the spread of pandemic in the IDPs, thus IDP women’s groups helped us with cleaning materials meant to clean the mosques in the IDPs as the means of mitigation of COVID-19. We are very grateful for women's roles within the community in such crucial times.”  In addition to non-medical face mask making activities, Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials were produced in Nigeria in five different local languages to enable ease with dissemination of COVID-19 key messages to communities. Moreover, the IOM CCCM teams conducted trainings for women’s committee members and camp sectoral committee members on self-care management during COVID-19, ensuring trainees replicated this to the camp population.  Similarly, in Kersa IDP site in Ethiopia, a group of 12 women were trained on communication and leadership skills and in key messages on COVID-19 with the aim to empower and prepare the participants to lead the RCCE activities on COVID19. Furthermore, the participants were equipped with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), to ensure that they could safely replicate the key messages in their community.     This article was written by Ashereen Kanesan, IOM Global CCCM Support Consultant for the Department of Operations and Emergencies.  The Women’s Participation Project began in 2015 as part of the 'Safe from the Start' Initiative, managed by the Global Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) Support team at IOM HQ. With the objective to improve women’s participation and representation in displacement, mainstreaming prevention and mitigation of GBV in camp management operations, the Women's Participation Project has been implemented in 9 countries in the last five years including Ecuador, Bangladesh, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria.  To find out more on the Women’s Participation Project, visit the Women in Displacement Platform.  


16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence in Somalia

Gender-based violence (GBV) continues to be one of the most prevalent human rights violations affecting communities globally. Knowing no social, physical or economic bounds, GBV deteriorates the health, dignity and autonomy of its victims, and creates a culture of silence. Due to unequal power relations, harmful social practices and traditional patriarchal structures, women and girls are disproportionately affected by GBV compared to men. Violence can happen to any woman in any country, regardless of culture, religion or economic status. Gender inequality, which reinforces harmful gender norms are key drivers of violence against women. According to UNFPA1, one in every three women worldwide will experience some form of violence in their lifetime. These odds, coupled with natural disasters and conflicts, leave displaced communities in Somalia extremely vulnerable to GBV. In camp or camp-like settings, women, girls and groups-at-risk often have less access to lifesaving information and to participate in camp-life due to different factors, such as existing unequal power dynamics or cultural barriers that restrict their movements. Meaningful, inclusive and representative participation in decision-making and camp governance structures is imperative for good camp management in ensuring that the risks, needs and capacities of women, girls and groups-at-risk are considered and prioritised. This is also essential in improving humanitarian response, community engagement and support, mitigating GBV and ultimately to ensure accountability towards affected populations.  To raise awareness and advocate globally for the end of violence against women, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign kicks off annually on the 25th of November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and runs until 10th of December, Human Rights Day. This annual international campaign calls for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls, with the international community and humanitarian agencies actively participating in advocating and highlighting the importance of this campaign. This year, in Somalia, the 16 Days of Activism Against GBV campaign kicked off in Kismayo, Dollow and Baidoa displacement camps with support from the Women Participation Project (WPP) and Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM). Throughout the 16 days, IOM staff recorded attendance of over 2,000 participants, with a third of the participants being male.  “We want Somali women to be empowered. The trainings and awareness campaigns helped women know where they can report their cases, so that something can be done about them. The women feel encouraged to help themselves,” shared Rahmo Sheikh Abdi, from the Buula Isaaq IDP site in Kismayo.   Members of the Women’s Group in each location were directly involved in the organisation of the events, which included singing, dancing and theatrical performances. The songs and dances focused on their power to overcome the challenges they face as women and invited other members of the community to join the initiative. Awareness campaigns were opened to all community members within the IDP sites. Trainings on advocacy were aimed at both men and women in Camp Management Committees (CMC) and women’s groups in order to make sure information reached all parts of the community.     The global theme this year was Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent and Collect, highlighting the need to increase funding to prevent GBV. With less than 1% of global humanitarian funding going towards GBV prevention and response globally, it is essential to highlight this need, to ensure survivors receive the services they need, focus on preventing GBV in communities and to collect data that improves services for GBV. In line with the campaign, community members wore orange shirts, scarves and caps with 16 Days of Activism Against GBV messages embedded. 16 designs of stickers were also distributed, one message for each day of the campaign, tackling issues of GBV and women empowerment. Some of the messages included were “Our girls’ matter. End child marriage,” and “Educate men and boys on how to prevent violence against girls and women.” Written in Somali, the stickers were distributed at the start of each day, and the participants were encouraged to display them in community centres, health clinics, schools and water stations, to raise awareness amongst the wider community.     “We have never seen women going around and creating awareness sessions on how to eliminate Gender-Based Violence in IDP sites before this campaign kicked off,” says Deka, a member of a women’s group in the Qansaxley IDP site in Doolow. “Many women here both earn a living and look after the domestic chores of the household. It is not always easy. I hope this will encourage men to listen to the women’s voices more.”  Somalia is experiencing incessant humanitarian crisis due to conflict and natural disasters, forcing many Somalis to leave their homes and seek shelter at informal displacement sites. Approximately 2.6 million people across Somalia have been displaced, the majority of whom are women and children. IOM supports more than 600 displacement sites in Somalia, ensuring that they get access to life-saving basic services such as water, shelter and healthcare. Living in informal settlements with vulnerable social status and shelters lacking privacy or security has left these women and single-headed households vulnerable to exploitation, violence and abuse. GBV data in Somalia indicates that 74% of the survivors who accessed services were living in displacement sites, and 99% of whom were women and girls. IOM operates a Complaint and Feedback Mechanism (CFM) in Baidoa, Dollow and Kismayo, which is a direct feedback channel from the community to the aid agencies through information desks and toll-free hotline-numbers. CFM integrates a GBV referral system in which any cases of GBV are immediately referred to a specialised protection agency for immediate follow-up and survivor protection. Since most reports of GBV are time-sensitive and require confidential but personalised counselling, the direct referral system ensures that GBV cases are prioritised and confidentially managed.   “IOM and the CCCM cluster is doing all we can to provide a secure channel of communication and protection to the survivors of GBV, but it’s not always easy to overcome the stigma associated with sexual violence, especially when it’s domestic violence,” explained Ahmed, a CCCM program officer based in Baidoa, who made sure that the Women’s Group had all the materials and resources needed to smoothly organise these events. “That’s why campaigns like the 16 Days of Activism Against GBV provide a platform for the community to come together and facilitate an open dialogue about gender balance and the importance of combatting gender-based violence.”  The Women’s Group in each location are comprised of around 40 core members, with doors opened to any new members all year round. With support from IOM, they organise monthly events to raise awareness of global and local social issues, such as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation and COVID-19 mask-making activities and have become a safe space for women to gather and discuss various issues regarding their lives in the displacement sites.   The 16 Days campaign concluded with a celebration for International Human Rights Day, the women presented theatre plays and highlighted ways to approach GBV within communities. Although the campaign ended in festivities, it has highlighted the challenge of encouraging survivors of GBV to report their cases and thwarting the stigma associated with GBV still remains with the community and with the humanitarian agencies.     This article was written by Saba Asif Khan, IOM Somalia Preparedness and Response Division Intern  The Women’s Participation Project began in 2015 as part of the 'Safe from the Start' Initiative, managed by the Global Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) Support team at IOM HQ. With the objective to improve women’s participation and representation in displacement, mainstreaming prevention and mitigation of GBV in camp management operations, the Women's Participation Project has been implemented in 9 countries in the last five years including Ecuador, Bangladesh, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria.  To find out more on the Women’s Participation Project, visit the Women in Displacement Platform.  


Communities Getting Involved: Supporting Community Leadership in the Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges for forcibly displaced persons and the humanitarian organizations working to support them. With restrictions on movement and limited access to refugees, asylum-seekers, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and stateless persons across the globe, UNHCR is supporting displaced communities to take the lead in the prevention of, and the response to, the existing and emerging protection needs of women, men, girls and boys of diverse backgrounds. This brief provides an overview of UNHCRs approach to engaging communities in the prevention and response to COVID-19, and draws on examples from the field, where displaced communities are partnering with humanitarian actors to protect those at heightened risk. Community members are the persons most knowledgeable about their own needs, and the best advisers on what approaches are suited in their local area. Every community that faces threats, engages in forms of individual or collective self-protection. If external agencies introduce new measures without considering existing ones, the community may lose its capacity to self-protect, resulting in it being worse off when external support is reduced. It is, therefore, necessary that we understand and support the strategies that communities already use, building on them and leveraging their skills and resources. UNHCR has a history of working hand-in-hand with communities in the identification of protection needs, and jointly developing responses that build on their knowledge, capacities and resources. UNHCR believes that meaningful participation: • is a right, and essential for informed decision-making; • leads to better protection outcomes and reduces feelings of powerlessness; • enables UNHCR to draw on the insights, knowledge, capacities, skills and resources of persons of concern; • empowers women, men, girls and boys of different backgrounds to rebuild self-esteem and self-confidence; and • helps people of concern cope with the trauma of forced displacement. Through the regular, systematic and meaningful participation of women, men, girls and boys of diverse backgrounds, UNHCR gains a real-time understanding of how COVID-19 is impacting individuals differently, and is able to work with them to develop programmes that address these differing needs effectively. UNHCR applies a community-based approach in its work with forcibly displaced people through which it identifies and supports community structures and establishes partnerships with community-based organizations, who play a critical role in reaching out to at-risk and marginalized groups and responding to the impacts of COVID-19. This becomes particularly important in contexts where UNHCR and partners face difficulties in accessing refugees, asylum-seekers, IDPs and stateless persons. Read the full report here


Hidden in Plain Sight: Women and Girls in Internal Displacement

The female face of displacement: 21 million women and girls uprooted by conflict and violence around the world Geneva, 5 March 2020 -- New estimates published for the first time today reveal that at least 21 million women and girls were uprooted within their countries by conflict and violence by the end of 2018. Two-thirds of these internally displaced women and girls were in Africa and the Middle East. Nine countries worldwide hosted over one million women and girls each: Syria, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Sudan. "Twenty-five years after the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, one of the most comprehensive global policy frameworks for gender equality, women and girls are still suffering disproportionately from displacement," said Alexandra Bilak, Director of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), the organisation who led the research. While the global estimate of 21 million displaced women and girls accounts for just over half of the 41 million internally displaced people (IDPs) worldwide, in many cases the proportion of women and girls in displaced populations is higher than that of men and boys, and also higher than in the national population. In Burkina Faso, for instance, where violence led to a ten-fold increase in displacements in 2019, 65 per cent of adult IDPs are women. This is likely because many men are forcibly recruited to fight by armed groups, so are unable to flee with the women. The new report, published jointly by IDMC, Plan International and IMPACT Initiatives, shows that displacement reinforces pre-existing discrimination and social and economic disadvantages. Displaced women and girls tend to face greater challenges than men and boys in staying safe, securing work, accessing education and healthcare. Their sex and age often prevent them for making their voices heard and participating in decisions that affect them. These first global, regional and national estimates are reached by applying UN national age distribution data to IDMC's figures for people internally displaced by conflict or violence. They do not include women and girls displaced by causes such as disasters and climate change, and only cover around 50 countries for which data is available, so they should be considered underestimates. Only 15 per cent of the countries IDMC collects data on provided information disaggregated by sex and age in 2018. Four of the ten countries with the largest internally displaced populations worldwide (Syria, Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia) are completely missing from the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Gender Index due to the unavailability of data. "The Sustainable Development Goals will not be achieved by 2030 unless internal displacement, and the plight of displaced women and girls in particular, receive greater attention; starting with better data and analysis, and followed by concrete action," said Alexandra Bilak. "Knowing how many women and girls are displaced, how old they are and the conditions they live in is essential if we are to provide them with the right resources to meet their specific needs." The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) is the world's authoritative source of data and analysis on internal displacement. Since its establishment in 1998, as part of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), IDMC has offered a rigorous, independent and trusted service to the international community. Our work informs policy and operational decisions that improve the lives of the millions of people living in internal displacement, or at risk of becoming displaced in the future. Download the report here: Women and girls in internal displacement For interviews please contact:\ Frankie Parrish, IDMC\ Email:\ Office: + 41 22 552 36 45\ Mobile: +41 78 630 16 78 Follow IDMC on social media:\ Facebook:\ Twitter: @IDMC_Geneva


Unlocking the lockdown gender-differentiated consequences of COVID-19 in Afghanistan

New York, NY, November 8, 2020 — To understand the gender impact of COVID-19 in Afghanistan, UN Women partnered with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), civil society organizations, and a mobile network operator (Roshan) to conduct a Rapid Assessment Survey across Afghanistan. The survey is part of a regional project run by UN Women to understand the differential impact of the pandemic on individuals across the Asia Pacific region. This rapid assessment survey summarizes first-hand data, research and policy work on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women and girls, including how it is affecting employment, health, unpaid care, migration, internally displaced people, returnees and host communities. While COVID-19 took a toll on all Afghans, the impacts on women and girls have worsened across the board the study highlights. “COVID-19 exposes our darkest social, economic and political vulnerabilities”, said Aleta Miller, UN Women Representative in Afghanistan. “The report we are just launching today shows that from homes to internally displaced camps, Afghan women are especially hurt by the resulting economic and social fallout.” Since the outbreak of COVID-19, 77% of Afghans surveyed reported that the pandemic has negatively affected their emotional and mental health. Survey findings show that accessing health care is a challenge for the vast majority of the population. Respondents noted longer waiting times at the doctor, an inability to seek medical care when needed, and reduced access to medical supplies, hygiene products, and food. However, women face additional challenges and discrimination in accessing these services due to the lack of female health practitioners and cultural barriers restricting women’s travel, especially in rural areas. The spread of COVID-19 is not only a global health pandemic, but is also affecting people’s livelihoods. In Afghanistan, when women work, they mostly do so in the informal sector. Survey findings indicate that 63% of women surveyed who work in the informal sector have lost their jobs since the beginning of the pandemic. The impacts are not just economic. More people at home also means that the burden of unpaid care and domestic work has increased for women and girls. For example, only 11%of men reported increases in the amount of time spent carrying out at least three activities related to unpaid domestic work. In comparison, the percentage for women was a striking 41%. “We know that crises impact women and girls differently because of gender inequality, yet we are still not seeing most COVID-19 response plans prioritize their unique needs” said Vicki Aken, IRC Country Director in Afghanistan. “The meaningful participation of women at all levels, a focus on gathering and analyzing gender disaggregated data, and designated budgets to support the needs of women and girls are critical in ensuring they are not left further behind due to COVID-19.” The publication concludes with a series of recommendations including calling for greater investment of data on the gendered impacts of the pandemic. Aleta Miller, UN Women Representative in Afghanistan commented, “Afghanistan stands the unique opportunity to build back stronger and better as the country approaches peace. But in order to do so, women must be the drivers and the beneficiaries of the response that tackles the vulnerabilities our report is flagging. All policies addressing the fallout of COVID-19 pandemic must be inclusive and transformative, addressing women’s leadership and labour, both outside and within the home.” Read the full report here Read the full press release here 

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Women’s Participation Project & Toolkit

Women’s Participation Project

The Women’s Participation Project (WPP) was developed by IOM and the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) in coordination with the Global Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) Cluster as part of the global-level Safe from the Start initiative aimed at reducing GBV risks in camp and camp-like settings. The objective of the project is to allow CCCM practitioners to have a broader understanding of what participation is and develop strategies adapted to the context to enhance the participation of women and girls in displacement sites.

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Women's Participation Project

The Toolkit

The Women’s Participation Toolkit is a resource for CCCM actors working in camp and camp-like settings who recognize that to improve the safety and to mitigate the risks to gender-based violence (GBV) for women and girls, women and girls must participate in decision-making mechanisms and governance structures within the camp and camp-like settings.

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Countries Roll-Out