Globally, half of all people fleeing their homes are women. In 2019, that was around 40 million people. The fact that flight looks different for women is not yet sufficiently taken into account, not even in Europe. Gender-specific monitoring of the situation of refugees is almost non-existent. In the last ten years, between one third and one half of all people arriving in Europe have been women.
The threat of sexual violence
Women are always at risk of becoming victims of sexual violence – whether in almost lawless Libya, an overcrowded detention center in Europe without adequate shelters for women, or as homeless people on the streets. Rape, the transmission of STDs or unwanted pregnancies are only physical consequences. Dealing psychologically with the knowledge of these dangers is also a burden that men do not experience in this way.
Threats to young mothers
Whether they become pregnant intentionally or unintentionally, having a child while fleeing is a specifically female experience. At the same time, the expectant mothers are not accompanied by midwives and do not have the security of regular check-ups. Instead, they cannot know where they will be when their child arrives, whether they will be able to cope with the strains of flight or to care for their child.
The threat of sexual exploitation
It is obvious that women can become victims of sexual exploitation not only in this situation. If no money is available, sex can be a means of payment to facilitate the onward journey. Especially in recent years, the focus has shifted from fleeing women accompanying male family members to more and more women fleeing alone. Sometimes, for security reasons, they join larger groups or men, on whom they then in turn depend. Between 2014 and 2017, a 600% increase in human trafficking for sexual exploitation was recorded in Italy. Most of those trafficked were Nigerian girls between the ages of 15 and 17.
The threat of being invisible
Although women have specific experiences and are exposed to dangers that men do not face, these are not sufficiently recognized. Even today, women in refugee camps in Europe are not sufficiently protected; rape, for example, occurs again and again. Talking about sexual violence can awaken traumas and is often socially undesirable. There are too few psychological services. There are also indications of discrepancies between the numbers of women and girls who flee and who make it to the countries of arrival – and that women and girls simply disappear in between. The silence about female refugee experiences and circumstances is thus by no means a sign that gender does not play a role on the flight. It only shows who is allowed and able to speak about what.
Sources: The report Migrant, refugee and asylum-seeking women and girls in Europe for the Council of Europe Gender Equality Division 2019 and the Council of Europe Gender Equality Strategy (2019): Protecting the rights of migrant, refugee and asylum-seeking women and girls.