Sarah Costa: Violence Against Women and Girls in the Horn of Africa: The Untold Story
Why latrines with locks, and cooking fuel alternatives are critical to the safety of women in disaster and displacement
.....Based on years of research and direct experience, the Women's Refugee Commission has identified the top ten critical needs facing displaced women and girls in crisis-affected settings. Our immediate recommendations include not only ensuring that they have safe access to basic necessities, such as food, cooking fuel, potable water, sanitation and shelter, but that they are protected from sexual violence and that health care, particularly reproductive health care, is available. Victims of sexual violence must also receive psychosocial support. The recently updated Minimum Initial Service Package for reproductive health outlines the basic measures needed to respond to the priority reproductive health needs of women and girls from the onset of a crisis. Governments and humanitarian agencies have initiated these efforts, but activities must be rapidly scaled up to meet the magnitude of the need.
One of the greatest risks the women and girls face arises out of what should be a simple task -- cooking for their families. Most of the food rations they receive from humanitarian agencies -- lentils, flour and a corn-soya blend -- need to be cooked. But often they don't receive cooking fuel, and firewood is becoming harder and harder to find because of widespread deforestation caused by the large influx of displaced persons over the past several decades. Women and girls have to go deeper into the desert around the camps to find wood, which makes them more vulnerable to sexual assault and rape. The solution is simple: they should have safe access to the cooking fuel required to cook the food rations they receive. Given the level of environmental degradation in the region, this will require the international community to invest more in alternative fuel sources and to promote fuel-efficient stoves.
There are other solutions that should not be difficult to implement. For example, women's and girls' risks of sexual violence would be greatly reduced if the camps had better lighting, latrines with locks and tighter security.
As the world responds to this and other emergencies, the particular plight of women and girls has to be put into better focus. Humanitarian agencies must recognize that women and girls are almost always among those at most risk in such crises and that their specific needs -- and rights -- must be met. If we don't take these most basic measures to protect them, we will further compound the tragedy and the devastating impact it is having on them....
Humanists for Social Justice and Environmental Action supports Human Rights, Social and Economic Justice, Environmental Activism and Planetary Ethics in North America & Globally, with particular reference to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other Human Rights UN treaties and conventions listed above.