Cases of rape and other violent attacks against women have doubled amongst refugees fleeing conflict and hunger in East Africa, according to member agencies of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC).
CARE International staff at two reception centres at the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya say reported cases have risen to 136 cases in the first six months of this year, compared to 66 in the same period in 2010.
Dadaab, which is the world's largest refugee camp, is coping with an influx of more than 1,400 new arrivals each day and around 80% of the new arrivals are women and children who have left their husbands behind.
Alexandra Lopoukhine, CARE spokesperson in Dadaab, said:
"The most dangerous period for refugees is when they are on the move. Women and girls are especially vulnerable to rape, abduction, illness and even being killed on the journey. Many women set out on the journey alone with their children, leaving husbands behind and they may walk for weeks in search of food and safety."
On top of the threat of violence, women and girls are being disproportionately affected by the drought. In Kenya, ActionAid reports women are resorting to the potentially life-threatening practice of binding their stomachs with rope in order to stave off hunger.
Women say the traditional practice, which helps them to work without food, has become even more widespread as the drought worsens.
Philip Kilonzo, from ActionAid Kenya, said:
"This is common practice and shows just how desperate hungry women are because of this drought. But it can be lethal – women have died after suddenly untying their stomachs once food is available."
Women and girls are also bearing the brunt of the drought in other ways:
- They shoulder the main responsibility to fetch water for the family. In some areas it can take eight to 10 hours to reach the nearest water source and girls are being withdrawn from school to fetch water.
- In many cases men migrate away from home with livestock in search of pasture and water and women are left behind to look after the children with no resources.
- A new report by Plan UK, Weathering the Storm, says lack of food can increase girls' risk of early marriage and sexual exploitation. Where food is available, some families will give boys a larger share.
- Alexandra Lopoukhine of CARE is available for interview from Dadaab refugee camp.
- ActionAid can provide case study, pictures and footage of stomach binding
- The DEC member agencies are: ActionAid, Age UK, British Red Cross, CAFOD, CARE International UK, Christian Aid, Concern Worldwide, Islamic Relief, Merlin, Oxfam, Plan UK, Save the Children, Tearfund and World Vision.
- To make a postal donation make cheques payable to 'DEC and mail to 'PO Box 999, London, EC3A 3AA'.
- Donations can be made at any high street bank.
- Donate at a Post Office by quoting Freepay 1562.
- To donate £5 by text send the word CRISIS to 70000. The full £5 will go to the DEC East Africa Crisis Appeal. Donors must be 16 years or over and have bill payers permission. Texts are free and donations will be added to the bill.
Longer term work
In addition to our immediate response in the face of this current food crisis CARE International emphasises the need to tackle the long-term, underlying causes of poverty. We have been present in the region for over 25 years and are helping families to break the cycle of hunger and to adapt to the changing climate and recurring droughts.
Our ongoing work in the region includes:
- Maintenance, protection and development of water points and wells.
- Working with women in Mandera, Kenya to revive traditional food preservation techniques.
- Vaccination of animals to prevent diseases breaking out as they congregate at remaining water points.
- Helping families have more consistent sources of income by supporting them in diversifying their work.