IDPs and Conflict: episode 8

Internally displaced women in the Tanganyika province, DRC Internally displaced women in the Tanganyika province, DRC © UNHCR/Colin Delfosse

In Focus by Camilla Lavino

According to IDMC’s first figures about women, internal displacement and conflict, women and girls amounted to more than half of the internally displaced population registered in 2018. In fact, around 21 million women and girls were reportedly living in internal displacement as of the end of the year (IDMC, 2020).

While accounting for the majority of internal displacements, women and girls also face greater and specific challenges compared to men that must be addressed to fully understand how these are negatively affected by conflict and violence. More specifically, the challenges they encounter can be grouped in four main areas: livelihood, security, health and education.

Women often encounter greater challenges than men in securing a decent livelihood in displacement, which ultimately hinders their capacity to find shelter and security and to access healthcare and education. Moreover, separation from or loss of male family members may force displaced women to become heads of household, posing them under increased financial strain and exposing them to various forms of insecurity. Similarly, in cases in which the male head of household is listed as sole recipient, women may also be unable to receive aid. Additionally, in countries where women have no legal right to property, they may have no opportunity to re-establish themselves elsewhere.

Furthermore, internally displaced women and girls face increased risks of gender-based violence because displacement often forces them away from the protection of their communities and families. In fact, camps tend to be particularly hostile environments for women and girls which may be vulnerable to targeting by traffickers and other opportunists. Additionally, the deterioration in livelihood conditions that displacement triggers also leave internally displaced women under risks to intrusion, attack and insecurity. As a result, they may be forced to engage in transactional sex to survive, early marriage or be under heightened risks of sexual and gender-based violence and abuse. 

Women and girls have specific health necessities that can be more difficultly met during displacement. In particular, the limited availability of services and facilities, stigma related to sexual and reproductive health, a lack of child-friendly and gender-sensitive information, and financial capacity tend to consistently worsen their health conditions. Additionally, women and girls’ inability to afford contraception or access age-sensitive reproductive health counselling and the stigma affecting these issues may lead to unintended pregnancies. Indeed, pregnant internally displaced women and girls are unable to receive appropriated care and are more vulnerable to violence, malnutrition, poor hygiene conditions and communicable diseases than non-displaced women and girls. 

Finally, the negative effect of internal displacement on education and future opportunities tend to be higher for girls than boys. In fact, displacement often exacerbaed gendered harmful social norms that discriminate and devalue girls’ education. Additionally, diffused gender-based violence, early marriage and unintended pregnancies consistently hinder their possibilities of learning.  Moreover, insecurity often forces girls to stay at home instead of going to school, reducing their chance of securing decent livelihood in the future. Since internal displacement overall exacerbates existing obstacles to girls’ education and economic opportunities, overcoming these challenges is crucial to achieve durable solutions for IDPs. 


To know more, read:

IDMC’s “Women and girls in internal displacement” report

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