Breaking the barriers: building better futures for women in displacement

New research by UNHCR reveals that IDP women are girls are disproportionally affected by internal displacement, both in numbers and impact.

Women hold up half of the sky, a Chinese proverb goes. In real life, they are doing that and more.

Over half of the 41.3 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) across the globe are women. New research by UNHCR reveals that IDP women and girls are disproportionally affected by internal displacement, both in numbers and impact.

According to the report, IDP women and girls lead more difficult lives than their male counterparts as they not only deal with the hardships of displacement and grapple with the challenges of gender inequality.

IDP women leading the charge for hope

As someone part of that figure, Jaslia Abbas, 43, led a challenging life ever since she and her family were displaced by the Marawi siege two years ago.

Despite the conflict’s lingering trauma, Ate Jaslia found it in herself to rise to the challenge, taking initiative as a community leader against a conservative backdrop.

She started running a sari-sari store to earn money for her family’s survival. But soon, she realized that helping her family was not enough. She started volunteering at a soup kitchen where she cooked meals for her fellow evacuees.

Ate Jaslia is also a natural born leader. After moving to the Sarimanok transitory shelter last year, she continued her support by helping organize families during relief operations. More than that, she counsels her fellow IDPs and UNHCR personnel alike with practical wisdom and a cheery disposition.

“Hindi lang kami ang nabakwit. Madami kami na dapat makabangon,” Ate Jaslia shared with conviction. Hearing her words, it is hard not to be moved by her determination.

Indeed, her story is a shining example that IDP women can also positively impact their communities.

Obstacles to participation and involvement

There are other incredible women around the world like Ate Jaslia, but gender inequality presents a big barrier for IDP women to participate in decision-making processes and assume leadership roles.

UNHCR’s report also brought to light that sexual and gender-based violence is a concerning issue that must be confronted immediately. Occurrences of domestic violence and proliferation of military actors in areas of evacuation centers and transitory sites pose grave harm to women in displacement.

These threats significantly hamper efforts to encourage IDP women to be involved in decisions that affect their lives. Prevailing norms that reproduce gender inequalities were ultimately the barriers that shove women on the sidelines.

Steps towards women empowerment

The gargantuan task of solving these problems requires tearing down the rigid power structures that sidesteps women from participation. The UNHCR report outlined several recommendations that hoped to improve the situation of women in displacement.

Safe spaces were found to be crucial to delivering much-needed social justice to IDP women, especially when safeguarding them from domestic violence and other SGBV-related risks. Another recommendation was to intensify humanitarian interventions that give IDP women increased access to livelihood activities that enable them to have autonomy and agency for decision-making.

As an example, women who had fled Marawi are now rebuilding their lives through Palapalicious, a livelihood initiative facilitated by UNHCR through the support of donors like you. Through palapa-making, they earn a living despite the hardships of displacement.

The humanitarian system is also expected to be a role model for gender equality. While Filipinas like Pia Paguio and Brenda Escalante are trailblazing the path of women leadership in the humanitarian sector, the report recommends further recruitment of female staff in many IDP settings.

Lastly, the report advocates to deconstruct the rigid equalities that prevent the substantive participation of IDP women and girls. By doing this, doors will open to millions of women in displacement and more ate Jaslias will rise up all over the world.

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