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Developed by Associate Professor Eileen Pittaway and Dr Linda Bartolomei, Graphics by Damayanthi Muthukumarage, Website by Anja Wendt

Session 5. Identifying the barriers to inclusion caused by SGBV

A Definition * B Background * C Tools and Excercises * D Stakeholder Exercises

2 Refugee Women and 2 Children

Aim of the Session

The main aim of this session is to ensure that all stakeholders recognise and acknowledge the huge impact that Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) has on women’s ability to meaningfully participate in all aspects of their lives, their families and communities, and to identify effective ways to address this.

Suggested Timing for the Session

We suggest that you allocate a minimum of half a day to undertake the Matrix exercise, and a further half day to do Storyboarding.

A. Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) – A Useful Definition

While there are many excellent definitions of SGBV, this covers the approach we have taken:

Sexual violence is a form of gender-based violence and encompasses any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting. Sexual violence takes multiple forms and includes rape, sexual abuse, forced pregnancy, forced sterilization, forced abortion, forced prostitution, trafficking, sexual enslavement, forced circumcision, castration and forced nudity.


The Big Silence

Even now, the silence and denial about SGBV experienced by refugee women is deafening.

There are many complex reasons for this – see suggested readings.  As stakeholders in the refugee world, we all have a responsibility to do something about this.  To know that human rights abuses are being perpetrated, and to ignore or deny them makes us complicit in the actions.

Women face SGBV as part of conflict, as a way of humiliating the men in their communities, as genocide, while crossing borders, in exchange for food and non-food items for their families.  Many refugee women are forced at some point to work in survival sex in order to survive.  Child and Youth marriage is much higher in refugee communities, not only because of cultural reasons, but because of absolute poverty, and as a way of protecting young single girls from rape.  Many girls and women bear children of rape.

In every site in which we have worked in this project and in 22 other countries over the 25 years of our work, women have identified rape, gender-based violence and sexual harassment (SGBV) as THE major barrier to participation, and gender equality in all aspects of their lives.

B. Background Reading on Sexual and Gender Based Violence

Endemic SGBV and its impact on individuals, families and communities

Sexual and gender-based violence is a major protection challenge we should recognize.

Representative of the Swedish Government, UNHCR Dialogue, 2017

SGBV is endemic in all refugee situations and is a major protection issue for refugee women and girls. It occurs in all aspects of their lives, including systematic rape in conflict situations, rape as a method of community control, to destroy families, as a punishment for men, as sexual torture, sexual slavery, trafficking, female genital mutilation, and in domestic violence (Gebreiyosus 2013; Asaf 2017). Men and boys also suffer from sexual violence. This abuse has significant consequences for both groups. These include severe psychological impacts, physical damage, sexually transmitted diseases and an enormous burden of shame. Women and girls additionally face bearing children of rape, are often marginalized from families or communities, or face forced marriage. Men are shamed because they cannot protect female family members, and whole communities suffer collective guilt. There is little or no legal redress and most perpetrators function with impunity (Pittaway and Pittaway 2004; Freedman 2016).

SGBV is caused by gender inequality and is simultaneously the biggest barrier to its achievement. It is also one of the hardest issues to address, because it reflects the experience of many women and girls across the world. In numerous cultures, both in the Global North and South, there is a reluctance to acknowledge that it exists, and therefore to address it. However, the development of effective responses to SGBV is the key to women’s protection, empowerment and gender equality in both refugee and host communities. It is a precursor to their full and effective participation in developing durable solutions.

SGBV is a major cross-cutting issue, as it part of all aspects of the lives of refugee women and girls. It has been documented for decades. The endemic nature of rape was recognised in the conflict in Ukraine, and many NGOs provided the morning-after-pill to women fleeing the violence, because the risk of rape was so real.  In other parts of the world, women receive condoms to help protect them as they flee.

See From rhetoric to reality. Achieving gender equality for refugee-women and girls: https://www.cigionline.org/publications/rhetoric-reality-achieving-gender-equality-refugee-women-and-girls/ 

and Project 2022 report (Link)

Putting Gender on the Agenda

For further information we suggest you consult the excellent work being done by the SEREDA Project, a multi country research project interrogating the sexual violence experienced by refugee women and girls.  It is being undertaken across the United Kingdom, Australia, Sweden and Turkey by a multi-country research team from the University of Birmingham, University of Melbourne, Uppsala University and Bilkent University.

C. Tools to identify locally appropriate ways of addressing SGBV potential solutions to barriers

Ci. The UNSW Age Gender Diversity Matrix Tool introduced in Session 4, Age Gender and Diversity

You may wish to use the entire matrix.

For example in 2018, we conducted consultations with over 400 refugees and 100 local stakeholders, in Thailand, Malaysia and Bangladesh examining barriers to gender equality in a number of key thematic areas.  As can be seen here, SGBV crosscuts almost all issues and diverse groups.  (For full detail see Project Report Link)

You may just want to focus on just one issue – SGBV:

Gauging the occurrence and impact of SGBV in any given site

Cii. We have found Storyboarding to be an excellent tool for working with refugee communities to analyse situations and suggest solutions.

The exercise moves from problem identification (via the matrix exercise) to problem solving, and is an excellent way to engage members of refugee communities in identifying appropriate local solutions.

Storyboarding questions could be:

  1. Depict the levels and types of SGBV experienced in your community.
  2. What is the impact of this on the individuals and community? (e.g. How does it affect the people concerned, what happens to them, how does this affect their families, and their communities?)
  3. What happens to these women and girls now? (What help, services and programs are available to them and are they effective?)
  4. If you were in charge of services for this group of people, what would you provide for them, their families and the community in order to address this issue?
  5. Who do you think could provide these services? Who would you want to do this? What help would the RLWOs need to address it?
  6. If all these services were available what would be the best outcome for these individuals, families and the communities?

D. Exercises to do with community groups and other stakeholders

The same exercises are equally important to use with all stakeholders, and the most value is gained when the results from each group involved are brought together to inform program design, implementation and evaluations.