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Worsening socio-economic conditions, new and ongoing conflicts and humanitarian funding shortfalls are increasing the risk of gender-based violence for forcibly displaced women and girls, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is warning today.

“A toxic mix of crises — conflicts, climate, skyrocketing costs, and the ripple effects of the Ukraine war – are inflicting a devastating toll on the forcibly displaced. This is being felt across the world, but women and girls are particularly suffering,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi.

Many refugees and internally displaced people are unable to meet basic needs, owing to inflated prices and limited humanitarian assistance precipitated by disrupted supply chains and shortfalls in funding. 

Displaced women and girls are often the most vulnerable to shocks, given the loss of assets and means of subsistence, the disruption of community-based safety nets and their frequent exclusion from education and other national social protection. Faced with food shortages and surging prices, many women and girls are being forced to take gut-wrenching decisions to survive. 

“With savings depleted, many are skipping meals, children are being sent to work instead of school and some may have no options but to beg or engage in the sale or exchange of sex to survive. Too many are facing heightened risks of exploitation, trafficking, child marriage and intimate partner violence,” said Grandi.

Among refugee populations in Algeria, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan, Niger, Tanzania, Uganda, Republic of the Congo and Zambia, UNHCR has recorded serious nutrition concerns. These include acute malnutrition, stunting, and anaemia. Across eastern and southern Africa, more than three quarters of refugees have seen food rations cut and are unable to meet their basic needs. Inside Syria, 1.8 million people in displacement camps are severely food insecure, while nine in 10 Syrian refugees in Lebanon are unable to afford essential food and services. 

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Across the Americas, half of those forcibly displaced eat only two meals a day, with three quarters reducing the quantity or quality of their food, according to UNHCR data. Major deteriorations in food security are projected in Yemen and the Sahel, and millions of internally displaced people in countries like Somalia and Afghanistan live in situations where 90 per cent of the population are not consuming enough food. 

There is a shocking, pernicious cycle of hunger and insecurity, each exacerbating the other and fuelling risks to women and girls, as harmful coping strategies are adopted across communities. 

Reports of girls being forced into marriage to allow the family to buy food are especially shocking. In the East and Horn of Africa, child marriages are on the rise, as a way of alleviating the strain on household income. Sexual violence risks are also aggravated by the drought, with women and girls being forced to trek longer distances to collect water and firewood.

While the need for programmes to address gender-based violence has never been greater, UNHCR is concerned that funding has not kept pace. UNHCR’s identified global needs for gender-based violence prevention and response programs in 2023 will reach around USD 340 million, the highest ever. 

Marking this year’s UN theme for the 16 Days of Activism in uniting to end violence against women and girls, UNHCR is urging donors to support essential gender-based violence prevention and response services, and to sustain funding for life-saving humanitarian programs to ensure refugees and other forcibly displaced can meet their basic needs.

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More information on UNHCR’s work to tackle gender-based violence can be found here: https://www.unhcr.org/gender-based-violence.html

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).