Internally Displaced Women: Record Number, Unresolved Challenges

With crises unfolding in Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and ongoing violence in Somalia, Sudan and Colombia, 2012 saw record-high numbers of people displaced within the borders of their own countries. Half of those displaced are women.

Today in Geneva, Chaloka Beyani, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons and our Project co-director, presented a new report to the Human Rights Council on the rights and wellbeing of women uprooted within their own states. The first of its kind, the report examines progress made to date at the local, national and international levels in responding to the rights and needs of internally displaced women, from the development of important standards and protection frameworks to the creation by internally displaced women themselves of organizations dedicated to advancing their rights and carving out solutions to their predicament. The report also analyzes the many challenges that persist despite these accomplishments – from sexual and gender-based violence and inadequate reproductive health care to economic marginalization and exclusion from peace talks and decision-making processes. Perhaps most importantly, the report points to ways in which governments, UN agencies and other actors can help ensure that internally displaced women can enjoy the full range of rights to which they are entitled. These include the development of comprehensive, gender-sensitive strategies to support durable solutions to displacement, and ensuring that displaced women have access to justice mechanisms to redress any violations of their rights.

At the consultations in Geneva that informed the development of this new report, I was moved by the story shared by Colombian human rights advocates of a colleague who had been attacked and sexually abused as a “warning” against speaking up for the rights of internally displaced women. Undeterred, these women continue their work – a testament to the tenacity of survivors determined to see the day when reports like the one the Special Rapporteur presented in Geneva today are no longer needed.