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 December 2011, UNHCR organized a ministerial meeting marking the 60th anniversary year of the Refugee Convention, during which a number of states made pledges related to the implementation of the Refugee and Statelessness Conventions, including on eliminating sexual and gender-based violence and gender discrimination in nationality legislation.Hide
The UNHCR Sexual and Gender Based Violence Guidelines developed in 2003 are currently in revision to bring them in line with relevant internal and external guidance and policy documents such as the UNHCR Need to Know Guidance on Working with Men View More
The UNHCR Sexual and Gender Based Violence Guidelines developed in 2003 are currently in revision to bring them in line with relevant internal and external guidance and policy documents such as the UNHCR Need to Know Guidance on Working with Men and Boy Survivors of SGBV, the Policy on the Protection of Personal Data of Persons of Concern to UNHCR, and the IASC GBV Guidelines. The revised guidelines will be rolled-out in 2017.Hide
Members of UNHCR’s Executive Committee prepared a draft Conclusion on the rights and protection needs of refugees with disabilities, which included the need to prevent and respond to violence against women refugees with disabilities.Hide
UNHCR utilises the Gender Based Violence Information Management System, an inter-agency initiative enables humanitarian actors to effectively and safely collect and analyse SGBV incidents reported by survivors. This system View More
UNHCR utilises the Gender Based Violence Information Management System, an inter-agency initiative enables humanitarian actors to effectively and safely collect and analyse SGBV incidents reported by survivors. This system helps informs improvements in response services, in SGBV prevention, and in coordination. It has been introduced in 20 UNHCR operations, 7 of which were in 2017.
Analysis and research
UNHCR conducted a population-based assessment of the impact of solar-powered street lights in Uganda’s Rhino Camp. The assessment indicated perceptions of prevention of violence and crime, improvement of safety, and productive night-time activity in the refugee settlement was carried out in 2017 in cooperation with refugees who led the collection and analysis of the data. The study represents the first known research on the protective effect of community lighting in a refugee settlement.
A study by the Population Council, UNHCR and local Ugandan organizations, tested the effectiveness of implementing a community-based SGBV prevention model in emergency settings - the Zero Tolerance Village Alliance intervention, in Western Uganda, proved to be particularly effective in moderating negative gender attitudes and beliefs related to SGBV and positively changing perceptions of community SGBV norms.
A compilation of promising practices to address Gender Equality in the Middle East and North African region was released in 2017. This report contains in-depth information on seven gender equality promising practices that are part of UNHCR’s response to the Syria crisis in the Middle East and North Africa. It reflects catalytic initiatives that seek to address specific gender-related protection needs and risks of diverse Syrian women, men, boys and girls implemented by UNHCR and partners.
In October 2009, the “Sakhli Advice Centre for Women”, an NGO and partner of UNHCR in Georgia, published a booklet on IDPs and the Problem of Violence, which is based on surveys on sexual and gender- based violence among IDP affected communities.Hide
UNHCR and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are working on a population-based survey to understand the magnitude of sexual and gender-based violence and the barriers to protection and other services among refugee populations.Hide
UNHCR has conducted in-depth assessments on vulnerabilities and at risk groups in refugee camps in Kenya and Tanzania. Protection interventions have been developed to combat sexual exploitation of children.Hide
UNHCR, as part of the Global Team responsible for the Gender-Based Violence Information Management System (GBVIMS) provided technical support in data collection and analysis to 10 countries including missions to Jordan and Lebanon.Hide
Between August and December 2013, UNHCR carried out a comprehensive review of the 2012 Participatory Assessments (PAs) in 42 different countries. This review looked at the process used in different locations to carry out PAs, the content of the assessments, and their outcomes in terms of strategic planning. With PAs being one of the elements of UNHCR’s participatory approach and AGD being a strategy to promote gender equality and respect for human rights which informs all stages of strategic planning, the review makes recommendations for addressing the identified weaknesses, mainly through a revision of the UNHCR Tool for Participatory Assessments in Operations.Hide