Women and girls fleeing Somalia's drought grapple gender-based violence in Daadab refugee camps Featured

DAADAB REFUGEE COMPLEX, Kenya—Around Christmas time last year, Rukia Yaroow Ali, 38, arrived at Hagadera refugee camp in Daadab. Hunger and insecurity had forced her to flee her village in Jilib in Somalia, with her nine children in tow.

“My husband was a successful farmer, but when the drought hit, he was not able to grow any food,” she says. “The burden of providing for the family became too much, causing friction between us. One day, he told me he was going out to look for work.”

He never returned.

The ongoing drought in the Horn of Africa has placed considerable stress on families. Like any climate-related crisis, women and girls bear a disproportionate burden. Many are making precarious journeys in search of food and water, or to displacement camps where they can access humanitarian assistance, including health services for their children.

“I came here with nothing, and could not even get food or shelter for my children,” she says. “I still owe a debt of 4,000 shillings ($33) to the man who transported us here. I don’t know how I am going to pay him.”

For now, they are housed in a shelter made of sticks and cloth on the periphery of Hagadera camp, alongside other new arrivals. Among them is her brother and his family, who arrived a few months earlier.

In 2022, an estimated 45,000 people fled the drought in Somalia, seeking refuge at the Daadab refugee camps of Hagadera, Ifo, and Dagahaley in northern Kenya, UNHCR reports.

“In Hagadera camp, we have had a nearly 20 per cent increase in the population since May 2022, which causes a huge strain on available resources,” says Jane Ambale, Senior Women Protection and Empowerment Officer for International Rescue Committee (IRC).

UNFPA supports the IRC with screening for gender-based violence among the new arrivals, many of whom are unregistered and therefore unable to access services in the camp.

“Our goal is to identify women and girls who are survivors or are at risk of gender-based violence, and to provide them the critical information and services they need,” says Ms. Ambale.

Undocumented refugees’ lack of shelter and access to food rations multiplies their vulnerability to sexual and gender-based violence and abuse, as they often rely on others to meet their basic needs.

“In August 2022, a woman came to an IRC health centre in Hagadera seeking help after she was raped by a purported good Samaritan, who offered to house her and her children on arrival,” says Ms. Ambale.

The IRC operates a gender-based violence support centre that functions as a safe space for women and girls in Hagadera, offering psychosocial support and referrals for medical care and related services. Between May and December last year, the centre served 2,000 women, including 400 new arrivals, providing them with dignity kits to meet their hygiene needs as they settle into the camp.

The centre holds regular community outreach events and weekly listening sessions, where women gather to discuss their protection needs and safety concerns. “Often, survivors are unaware of where to seek help, or afraid to speak up for fear of losing the support of the community. Our outreach events ensure that we reach as many new arrivals as possible, letting them know that help is available, whenever they need it,” says Ms. Ambale.

As communities grapple with Kenya’s worst drought in the past 40 years, pre-existing gender inequalities and the lack of prioritization of sexual and reproductive health services compound an already dire situation, placing thousands of women and girls' lives at risk.

UNFPA is scaling up delivery of life-saving reproductive health and protection services and supplies to meet the rising need. An appeal has been launched for $114 million for a Response Plan for the Horn of Africa Drought Crisis 2022-2023.

Source: reliefweb