The High Commissioner for Refugees is mandated by the United Nations to lead and coordinate international action for the worldwide protection of refugees and the resolution of refugee problems. UNHCR’s primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and wellbeing of refugees. In its efforts to achieve this objective, UNHCR strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State, and to return home voluntarily. By assisting refugees to return to their own country or to settle permanently in another country, UNHCR also seeks lasting solutions to their plight. UNHCR’s Executive Committee and the UN General Assembly have authorized involvement with other groups. These include former refugees who have returned to their homeland; internally displaced people; and people who are stateless or whose nationality is disputed.
UNHCR defines protection as “all actions aimed at ensuring the equal access to and enjoyment of the rights of women, men, girls and boys of concern to UNHCR, in accordance with the relevant bodies of law (international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law).” As such, UNHCR views the prevention and response to sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) as an integral component of its mandate. It is committed to the principle of participation, believing that refugees and others who benefit from the organization’s activities should be consulted over decisions which affect their lives.
UNHCR carries out its work in collaboration with many partners, including governments, regional organizations, international and non-governmental organizations.
In March 2018, UNHCR launched an updated policy on Age, Gender and Diversity (AGD). Building on long-standing commitments and lessons learned, the policy aims to further enable displaced and stateless women, men, girls and boys to enjoy their rights on an equal footing, and to ensure that they are better able to participate fully in the decisions that affect their lives and the lives of their family members and communities.
“UNHCR’s updated policy brings together all the essential components for change: stronger and clear accountability, defined responsibilities across the organization, as well as consistent monitoring which can lead to evidence-based and regular reporting,” Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Volker Türk 2018.
The policy is mandatory for all personnel and operations through the application of 10 core actions. Among them is the commitment that “Women and girls will have access to comprehensive SGBV prevention and response services”. It acknowledges that SGBV disproportionally affects women and girls, but also men, boys. As such UNHCR and partners need to work closely with communities, including men and boys and national authorities, to promote the equal rights, integrity, well-being, and equitable access to SGBV prevention and response services for all persons of concern, from preparedness and the onset of crisis to solutions. As a core action. UNHCR operations “will adopt and implement SGBV standard operating procedures, operationalizing the four main referral pathways for all survivors (safety/security, legal, medical, and psychosocial), and will promote the same with partners, including Governments”
Creating safe environments and mitigating the risk of SGBV is a high priority for UNHCR. Therefore, UNHCR continues to establish safeguards against such violence for all people of concern and works to ensure that response interventions are accessible for all survivors of SGBV.
The implementation of UNHCR’s SGBV prevention and response strategy, Action against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence: An Updated Strategy, launched in 2011, has strengthened UNHCR’s focus on six key action areas:
Multi-year country-level SGBV strategies have been developed in country operations in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Middle East.
UNHCR takes into consideration gender-related persecution in the determination of refugee status. In addition, in seeking durable solutions for refugees, specific attention is paid to the needs of survivors and those at risk of SGBV. Depending on the circumstances, one of the durable solutions available to them is resettlement to a third country.
In addition, UNHCR has embraced a mainstreaming approach to the prevention, risk mitigation and response to sexual and gender based violence, aimed at systematically mainstreaming SGBV prevention and response into all areas of UNHCR’s work. This involves thematic and cross-sectoral responsibilities to more effectively integrate and address SGBV prevention, risk mitigation and response. It aims to bolster leadership, mainstreaming SGBV prevention and response across all sectors, and share responsibility and accountability at all levels. This effort is an operationalization of the IASC Guidelines for Integrating Gender-based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Action.
Working with men and boy survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in forced displacement, UNHCR (2012). Available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/5006aa262.html
Action against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence: An Updated Strategy, UNHCR (2011). Available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e01ffeb2.html
Working with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & Intersex Persons in Forced Displacement, UNHCR (2011). Available rel="noopener noreferrer" at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e6073972.html
UNHCR Handbook for the Protection of Women and Girls, UNHCR (2008). Available at: http://www.unhcr.org/protection/women/47cfae612/unhcr-handbook-protection-women-girls.html
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence against Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons: Guidelines rel="noopener noreferrer" for Prevention and Response, UNHCR (2003). Available at: http://www.unhcr.org/3f696bcc4.html
Guidelines for Integrating Gender-Based Violence Interventions in rel="noopener noreferrer" Humanitarian Action, IASC (2015). Available at: http://gbvguidelines.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/2015-IASC-Gender-based-Violence-Guidelines_lo-res.pdf
UNHCR’s Engagement on Security Council Resolutions 1612 and 1960 (Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism MRM and MARA Available at: http://www.refworld.org/pdfid/5a6edf734.pdf
In Serbia, a report on “Domestic Violence - Protection and Prevention” was presented by UNHCR in March 2009, providing an analysis of the legislative framework and a recommendation for the adoption of a Law on Domestic Violence, ensuring a coordinated and effective response to instances of domestic violence.Hide
UNHCR advocated for legal reforms related to gender equality and sexual and gender-based violence in 2012. For example, in Georgia a new law on domestic violence requires police to respond immediately to cases of domestic violence, and even if there is no apparent injury but violence has occurred, the police is required to issue a restrictive order.Hide
In 2008, UNHCR allocated an additional USD 1.5 million for prevention and response to sexual and gender-based violence. Projects include capacity building workshops for women in Panama; psychological counselling in Venezuela and Turkey; distribution of sanitary materials in India and Thailand; improved access to health facilities and income-generation activities in India; allocation of subsistence allowances to unaccompanied children in Egypt; language classes in Malta, vocational training in Bosnia; and the establishment of safe houses in Yemen and Turkey. UNHCR expanded the provision of Post Exposure Phropyhlaxis (PEP) following rape to prevent transmission of HIV.Hide
In 2016, UNHCR established response mechanisms to people fleeing from conflicts and crises in various parts of the world such as Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, CAR, Niger and Nigeria. With the continued flow of refugees to many of the mentioned View More
In 2016, UNHCR established response mechanisms to people fleeing from conflicts and crises in various parts of the world such as Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, CAR, Niger and Nigeria. With the continued flow of refugees to many of the mentioned countries, UNHCR operations have sought to swiftly increase and strengthen the SGBV response and assistance. UNHCR has worked together with partners, including refugees, with the aim of ensuring the provision of accessible, prompt, confidential and appropriate multi-sectoral services (safety, legal, psycho-social and medical) to survivors, establishing referral pathways and coordination mechanisms, recording cases on the GBVIMS and reducing of risk of SGBV through prevention and outreach activities. Although challenges persist, UNHCR continues to work to enhance community participation in SGBV programming and towards the empowerment of survivors.Hide
UNHCR and a partner organisation have opened a women’s only internet café in Herat, Afghanistan. The café, which is the first of its kind within UNHCR operations, was devised as a response to the harassment and intimidation View More
UNHCR and a partner organisation have opened a women’s only internet café in Herat, Afghanistan. The café, which is the first of its kind within UNHCR operations, was devised as a response to the harassment and intimidation experienced by many women who used traditional internet cafes in Herat. The café provides a safe environment to use the internet, participate in free trainings and report SGBV cases through a confidential questionnaire. The project also explores how to connect participants to skills training relevant to the local job market.Hide
UNHCR operational activities include establishing and maintaining drop-in centres to facilitate access to health and psychosocial service providers, safe shelters, and legal justice for survivors.Hide
UNHCR collaborates with health partners, to ensure that survivors of violence have proper access to services, including access to post-exposure prophylaxis and emergency contraception. Such collaboration with UNFPA and other partners includes training on clinical management of rape survivors for health professionals.Hide
In Kenya, among Somali refugees over 500 survivors received some form of legal assistance and 62 percent of reported cases were prosecuted. Among the activities, the deployment of 10 translators to police gender desks located at various police View More
In Kenya, among Somali refugees over 500 survivors received some form of legal assistance and 62 percent of reported cases were prosecuted. Among the activities, the deployment of 10 translators to police gender desks located at various police stations in the camp strengthened confidential reporting and enhanced the investigation of reported cases. Additionally, close to 40 percent of police stations in the Dadaab operation have uninterrupted access to the Internet, which facilitates the police’s participation in an online training platform covering SGBV.Hide
Compared to the previous year, in 2015 significantly greater levels of assistance were provided to survivors across a range of key core services: psychosocial counselling was provided to survivors in 27,616 reported SGBV incidents (38% increase View More
Compared to the previous year, in 2015 significantly greater levels of assistance were provided to survivors across a range of key core services: psychosocial counselling was provided to survivors in 27,616 reported SGBV incidents (38% increase compared to 2014); legal assistance in 7,342 reported incidents (31% increase); medical assistance in 4,518 reported incidents (7% increase); material assistance in 5,542 reported incidents (27% increase); and safe spaces in 3,948 reported incidents (50% increase). Additionally, over 6,000 survivors were enrolled in income generating and occupational activities doubled the number enrolled in the previous year.Hide
In Egypt, the provision of support to SGBV survivors among Syrian refugees includes a shelter and the use of creative approaches to psychosocial support. Female survivors have access to women’s centers where awareness raising, counselling View More
In Egypt, the provision of support to SGBV survivors among Syrian refugees includes a shelter and the use of creative approaches to psychosocial support. Female survivors have access to women’s centers where awareness raising, counselling and psychosocial support is made available. Special projects and approaches were put in place, such as the individual and group art therapy focusing on issues such as child marriage, training of trainers (ToTs) on art therapy.Hide