Cases of rape and other violent attacks against women have doubled amongst refugees fleeing conflict and hunger in East Africa, according to member agencies of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC).
CARE International staff at two reception centres at the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya say reported cases have risen to 136 cases in the first six months of this year, compared to 66 in the same period in 2010.
Dadaab, which is the world's largest refugee camp, is coping with an influx of more than 1,400 new arrivals each day and around 80% of the new arrivals are women and children who have left their husbands behind.
Alexandra Lopoukhine, CARE spokesperson in Dadaab, said:
“The most dangerous period for refugees is when they are on the move. Women and girls are especially vulnerable to rape, abduction, illness and even being killed on the journey. Many women set out on the journey alone with their children, leaving husbands behind and they may walk for weeks in search of food and safety.”
On top of the threat of violence, women and girls are being disproportionately affected by the drought. In Kenya, ActionAid reports women are resorting to the potentially life-threatening practice of binding their stomachs with rope in order to stave off hunger.
Women say the traditional practice, which helps them to work without food, has become even more widespread as the drought worsens.
Philip Kilonzo, from ActionAid Kenya, said:
“This is common practice and shows just how desperate hungry women are because of this drought. But it can be lethal – women have died after suddenly untying their stomachs once food is available.”
Women and girls are also bearing the brunt of the drought in other ways:
- They shoulder the main responsibility to fetch water for the family. In some areas it can take eight to 10 hours to reach the nearest water source and girls are being withdrawn from school to fetch water.
- In many cases men migrate away from home with livestock in search of pasture and water and women are left behind to look after the children with no resources.
- A new report by Plan UK, Weathering the Storm, says lack of food can increase girls’ risk of early marriage and sexual exploitation. Where food is available, some families will give boys a larger share.