Right now, some of the most at risk women and girls in the world are those living in places affected by conflict and crisis.
According to figures gathered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, today there are more refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people than ever before in recorded history. In 2015, ongoing conflict and persecution forced 65.3 million people to flee their homes– almost double the 37.5 million people displaced a decade before.
That’s more than two and a half times the Australian population. In fact, globally one person in every 113 is now a refugee, internally displaced person or asylum seeker. Estimates suggest that up to 80 percent of those displaced people worldwide are women and children.
The UN Security Council has stated that women and girls suffer disproportionately during and after war, due to existing inequalities being magnified and the breakdown of social networks, heightening their vulnerability to sexual violence and exploitation. That statement remains true today.
As a World Vision child protection and conflict specialist, Erin Joyce has a firsthand view of our vital work supporting women and girls in Syria and the surrounding region.
“We know that people who have had to flee their homes are some of the most vulnerable in the world, with the highest humanitarian needs. Women and girls in middle or low income countries already face additional layers of risk. When disaster strikes and they are removed from the protection of their home environment, that risk only becomes worse,” Erin says.
The impact on women and girls' lives can take many forms. Stress, inadequate access to health and protection services and lack of income can have an adverse effect on women’s mental health and physical wellbeing, particularly as they put the needs of their family above their own. Women may end up having to financially support their families, resorting to work that puts them at risk of abuse and exploitation. Girls are more likely to be forced to drop out of school, affecting their future potential. For some families, resorting to child labour and early marriage seems like the only way to ensure the survival and protection of their children. Male heads of households are often a key protective element for the women and children in their families, so without them women can become increasingly isolated and face barriers accessing essential services.
According to Erin, tackling these problems requires a dual approach. “We need to be designing specific projects to address risks for women and girls, as well as ensuring that all our work takes the needs of women and girls into account to ensure they have safe, dignified and meaningful access.”