The Gendered Dimension of the Refugee Crisis

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Anna_TriandafyllidouAnna Triandafyllidou is Robert Schuman Chair Professor at the RSCAS and Director of the Global Governance Programme’s Research Strand on Cultural Pluralism.

Women and girls are both among the most vulnerable parts of the asylum seeking populations seeking refuge in Europe these last months, but also crucial actors in the future socio-economic integration of their families at destination.

Under conditions of civil war and protracted violence that affects civilians, women are among the first that need to flee as they run the risk not only of getting caught in enemy fire but also of becoming victims of sexual violence, themselves and their bodies incarnating the ethnic or religious group that has to be suppressed not just in the battlefield but also physically and emotionally through rape. These risks are magnified when a regional conflict escalates as it is happening today in the Middle East, causing a massive outflow of people in search of international protection.

The composition of the asylum seeking flows that cross from Turkey to Greece has been rapidly evolving through 2015. While in spring 2015 it was mainly men who were fleeing the conflict, by October 2015, 1 in 5 asylum seekers was a child and in December 2015 1 in 3 was a child. The rise in children refugees testifies to the rise in families and single women who flee the conflict. Among the asylum seekers registered in Greece during December 2015, 1 in 5 was a woman while men were only 45% of the total according to the UNHCR data.

Already in September 2015, the UN Women agency had called for action to protect women and girls who are fleeing their homes and are explosed to violence and abuse along their journeys. More recently there has been a call for increased attention to incidents of trafficking among populations seeking international protection travelling through the Balkan route from Greece to Germany and other northern European countries.

While being among the most vulnerable parts of the refugee populations, women are especially important for the future integration process of these refugee populations. They play an essential role in keeping the family together and helping the integration of children in school life. Thus any refugee integration policies have to pay special attention to the appropriate integration of women refugees providing language learning classes and helping them with their first reception problems. Actually native women can provide for mentorship accompanying and advising the newcomers into the practical details of their new lives including grocery shopping, school routines, getting around in the neighbourhood, and necessary paperwork for the family.

Facing the refugee crisis requires a gender-sensitive approach to people in transit: There is an urgent need to ensure that no young girl or woman falls victim of abuse or trafficking on their road to safecty. Also any preparation of their integration into the society of settlement and the labour market requires a special attention to the role of women as mother and spouses and agents of integration for the whole family. There is a need to reach out to the women through culturally and religiously sensitive information and mentoring, to enable them to recreate their homes at destination.