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
UNHCR organizes training on SGBV to enable the organization to meet standards in prevention and response. UNHCR’s system for measuring progress in operations includes standards and indicators on SGBV, and offices are required to report on their performance in relation to meeting the standards. In addition, the UNHCR’s global strategic objectives and measurable targets include a requirement that all UNHCR operations will have in place standard operating procedures for SGBV prevention and response by the end of 2007.Hide
UNHCR has assigned country-level focal points in each of its offices to carry out the recommendations of the Secretary-General’s Bulletin on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (ST/SGB/2003/13). The Office continues to promote and report on the implementation of the Bulletin and provides annual refresher sessions for staff on its Code of Conduct. UNHCR’s Code of Conduct includes a section on sexual exploitation and abuse by humanitarian workers. All agreements with implementing partners include a mandatory appendix (2) on “Standards of Conduct – Ensuring protection from sexual exploitation and abuse”.Hide
In June 2011, UNHCR published its “Action against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence: An Updated Strategy”, which highlights six action areas: protecting children, persons with disabilities and LGBTI persons against sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), addressing survival sex, engaging men and boys and providing safe access to domestic energy and natural resources. It also includes recommended actions in three institutional focus areas, in order to strengthen UNHCR’s capacity and expertise in addressing SGBV. This global strategy framework forms the basis for all UNHCR operations to develop five-year, country-specific SGBV strategies, embedded in their overall protection strategy.Hide
UNHCR held four regional workshops on sexual and gender-based violence, aimed at strengthening the capacity of UNHCR and partner staff in the field of prevention and response, as well as monitoring and evaluation. The workshops also included the 2011 “Action against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence: An Updated Strategy” and will assist individual country operations to develop country-level strategies. UNHCR has also recently recruited four senior protection officers, being also responsible for developing multi-sectoral strategies on sexual gender-based violence at country level.Hide
Two Global Strategic Priorities of UNHCR for the coming two years will focus on SGBV by addressing provision of support to SGBV survivors as well as prevention and protection of SGBV survivors through community involvement. In order to strengthen its accountability, UNHCR also began focusing on joint monitoring and evaluation for the implementation of its three strategies on Education, Child Protection, and SGBV, as these three areas are complementary and often overlapping, and organized a seminar for protection and programme officers to this end.Hide
In July 2009, UNHCR held a seminar with the CEDAW Committee on promoting the use of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women to protect women affected by forced displacement and statelessness, focusing on sexual violence and discrimination against displaced women and girls.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
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
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