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New guidelines to better protect refugee women against violence

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New guidelines to better protect refugee women against violence

19 September 2003

19 September 2003

GENEVA - The UN refugee agency on Friday invited the humanitarian and development communities to join forces in combatting sexual and gender-based violence against refugees, returnees and internally-displaced people.

The appeal was made by UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner, Mr. Kamel Morjane, at the launch of new, revised guidelines on preventing and responding to sexual violence against refugees, returnees and displaced populations. Morjane termed the release of the revised guidelines "a milestone in a process to ensure better delivery of protection to refugee women and children."

Launching the 158-page publication in Geneva, the Assistant High Commissioner told donor representatives, UN partner agencies and NGOs that the challenge of preventing and responding to sexual violence against women and girls in refugee settings can only be effectively tackled if the humanitarian community assumed collective responsibility for addressing the problem.

"Ownership and usage of the revised guidelines do not rest solely with UNHCR," Morjane said. "These guidelines are intended for use by all humanitarian and development partners working with refugees and other displaced populations."

The revision process, which began in 2001, was given new impetus and momentum by the global concern raised in reports last year of alleged sexual abuse and exploitation of refugee women and girls in West Africa. The revised guidelines have been field-tested in 32 countries around the world with the participation of 60 partners to ensure their relevance in different refugee situations. The first edition of the guidelines was published in 1995.

UNHCR is in the process of distributing the new guidelines to staff worldwide as well as to key partners, including governments, NGOs and other UN agencies. The publication is currently available only in English with the French translation already underway. It will also be translated into local languages to ensure "better local ownership."

Describing the guidelines as "both a prevention and response arsenal," UNHCR's Director for International Protection, Erika Feller, cautioned that the new document would only be useful if implemented.

"The guidelines without effective implementation are nothing," Feller said. "Too often, there can be a gap between policy guidelines and their implementation."

She said the process of revising the guidelines, however, reflected UNHCR's commitment to ensuring that ever better tools are provided to the agency's front-line staff.

The new UNHCR publication, "Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Against Refugees, Returnees and Displaced Persons: Guidelines for Prevention and Response," offers a wealth of practical advice on addressing the problem of sexual violence against refugee women and girls. It recommends, for example, the participation of refugees in designing and implementing programmes to prevent and respond to gender-based violence and offers tips on how to monitor and evaluate their effectiveness. In the event of abuse or violence against women, the guidelines detail the various responses required to help victims, including the need for legal redress and access to medical and psycho-social support.

Sexual and gender-based violence includes rape, abduction, trafficking, honour killings or demands for sexual favours in exchange for offers of services or assistance. Women and girls make up the vast majority of victims or survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, although boys and men can also be affected.

According to a World Bank report, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates that as many as 2 million women are trafficked across borders annually, while in Africa, more than 90 million women and girls are victims of female genital mutilation.