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The Impact of Human Rights Violations on Refugee Women Essay

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The international concern about the rights of women has been rapidly gaining attention from higher authorities.  Since the end of the World War II, the issue pertaining to this has received significant development until the millennium era.  The first among the organization that concentrated on the advocacy of the women’s rights was the Commission of the Status of Women, which was established in 1948 in order to promote women’s right and equality followed by the International Women’s Decade in 1976 to 1985 (Beyani, p.

29) dedicated to the promotion of women’s right as human rights..

In the same way, the United Nations had conducted several conferences to address the problem of human rights violations committed on women worldwide as well as to outline legal trends that could help minimize violence on women and to advance the cause of women specifically the refugee women. Spearheaded by the United Nation, the conferences composed of loose coalition of groups and individuals worldwide, they launched a petition in 1991 calling on the Vienna to comprehensively address women’s human rights.

These campaigns were so successful that women’s right gained recognition in both the UN documents and treatises including the adoption of a UN declaration of on the Elimination of Violence against women. Cases of human rights violations among refugee women are ubiquitous because these people are exposed to numerous threats during all phases of the dislocation or displacement period Displacement period among women simply refers to their loss of jobs by either war or domestic violence.  Their experiences while at the camp leave emotional and physical impact on them, which in many cases traumatic that cause major changes in their lives.

            Likewise, those organizations have identified specific exploitations done on women including refugee women, which have the worst cases of human rights violations all over the world.  Among the recognized forms of abuses are rape, sexual abuse, sexual extortion, and physical injury as outlined by the United Nation.

These abuses are rampant regardless of their geographical limitation; abuses are inflicted to many women in refugee camps around the globe most particularly in countries like Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Somalia, and many Asian nations.  The human rights of these refugee women receive less considerable attention unlike their male counterpart or the human right’s abuses among men., because in the first place, their interests have not sufficiently represented in the international body.

Stedman and Tanner cited the definition of refugee from African Unity Refugee Convention in 1974, which he stated as,

“every person who, owing to external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or events seriously disturbing public order in either part or whole of his country of origin or nationality, is compelled to leave his place of habitual residence in order to seek refugee in another place outside his country of origin or nationality” (p. 139).

            Refugees are people who seek international protection for fear of persecution, civil war, or strife, abuses of human rights, and other reasons in their own country because their own country failed to provide that for them (Tarner, 139).  Nowadays, the process of seeking refuge or asylum is under an obligation and/or activity of United Nations with the assistance from United States of America and other participating countries.  The reported cases of refugee prepared by United States Committee for Refugees in 2003 are approximately less than ten million (Martin, p. 3); and the majority of these people are from the least developed countries such as Bangladish, which are mostly women and children.

However, the irony here is that, the refugees who are after for protection have stumbled upon worst exploitations in the country they chose to settle.  Refugee women are defenseless in terms of abuse by people in the government and sometimes by rebellious groups.

            There are factors that can prove the relationship of refugee flows with social, cultural, and political chaos in the society.  Doreen Marie Indra stated that it becomes clear that in many cases these experiences are “grounded in politics” (p. 326).  Women become the subject of persecution at some occasion because they refuse to oblige with or they transgress social mores. Indra explained that because these women oppose the dictates of a political or religious system they are gendered punishment for violation of “particular social norms” (p. 326).In other words, even the prevailing social and religious system was oppressive in nature to the women’s right and they punished for disobeying even the simplest dress code (Indra, p. 328).

            Michael Penn and Rahel Nardos saw the angle of discrimination of society to women as another ground for human rights violation of refugee women.  Violence against women according to him is a “manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women…[and that it] is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men” (p. 182).  Likewise, those women in refugee camps and minority groups are vulnerable to violence according to him.  This concept prompts men to take advantage of women in refugee camps because of the idea that women are property of men.

            On the other hand, Erin Baines believed that problem pertaining to refugee crisis has something to do with the cultural differences among individual groups (p. 32).        Stedman and Tanner (2003) described the nexus of refugee flows as:

 “The result of the failure of the international system to prevent, deter, or terminate gross violations; from failure to hold governments that are guilty of gross violations responsible for the floods of refugees they unleash; from failure to assume political responsibility for refugee situations that threaten international peace and security; from failure to assume political responsibility to prevent violations that unleash refugee floods, and collective responsibility to guarantee remedies, including temporary protection or resettlement” (p. 155).

            Accordingly, refugees continue to suffer from exploitation simply because the international political system fails to recognize its collective responsibility in this issue, at least to place individual rights at the top of the normative deliberation in refugee catastrophes.(yes it’s mine.) It means that obviously the rights of individual refugee women were somehow neglected, although in general, there efforts to combat human rights abuses.

The relocation itself causes difficulty to refugees especially in adjusting oneself to current culture, language, and society.  Most of them rely on donation from non-government organization, which does not sufficiently sustain the needs of the family. Though they wish to stand on their own, they find difficulty gaining access to important services such as income-generating projects and educational programs, Indra noted that women in many countries… “Are denied education, access to profession, or paid work (p. 326)  which are important elements to support the need of the family especially in the absence of the husband.

Due to this problem, many of them suffer financial complexity and emotional stress.  Meyer and Prugl noted that refugee women cannot enjoy the social services or employment opportunities or be protected in accordance with the UN High Commissioner for refugee  UNHCR policies since most of them rely on their husband’s document; and this resulted to great stress among them as they seek help from the authorities such as the United Nations (p. 250).  These people are likely to experience poverty, illiteracy, encounter conflicts within refugee population, domestic violence, and sexual torture.

Poverty is one major problem of the refugees. They are lack of adequate food and safe drinking water that lead to high rates of child mortality and relatively poor health.  Cole, Espin, and Rothblum reported that most refugees “live in unsanitary conditions where epidemics and disease are common, water supplies are contaminated, and food resources are insufficient (p. 65).  In a report made by the United States General Accounting Office (GAO) narrated that women are often reduced to “exchanging sex for otherwise unavailable food and nonfood items such as clothing, shelter materials, and cooking items” (p. 25).

Girls in the refugee camps have little opportunity to acquire education because families do not have funds for school fees, uniform, books, and others.  Lack of education worsens their condition because this limits the employment chances of women and youth in the future.

Many refugees encounter conflicts within the refugee population because of major ethnic groups or political factions.  Martin noted that the conflicts among the refugees affect the participation in decision making of the representatives of different groups that hinder possible solution to their problem (p. 18).

Domestic violence on women in the refugee camp occurs because male family members are away, or sometimes killed.  According to the report of Human Rights Watch Staff, the levels of domestic violence “could also be high in refugee setting.”  For instance, in the Human Rights Watch’s report of the Burundian refugee camps in 1998, they had recorded relatively high incidence of domestic violence committed on women, which occurred inside or outside refugee camps by relief workers (p. 487).  This group acknowledged this problem as something largely unrecognized and the perpetrators “enjoyed free movement in the camps” (p. 487).

Sexual torture somehow is different from domestic violence.  Martin specifically identified these tortures as something inflicted on the victims in an inhumane manner.  Sexual torture is in form of either heterosexual or homosexual rape; the rape of women by the use of specially trained dogs or forced witnessing of unnatural sexual relations, and many other forms (Martin, p. 33).  Basically, torture causes much severe emotional impact on its victims both physically and psychologically, because of the nature it is being carried out.which Martin describe as “inhumane, cruel and degrading punishment or treatment (p. 33)

Aside from health and protection problems, women in the refugee camps are likely to suffer additional problems due to their gender.  According to Cole, Espin and Rothblum, women and girls are vulnerable to sexual violence in which rape is a common experience for them (p. 65).  Rape is the most frightening and humiliating experience for the refugee women; this is the most traumatic actually that many of them already committed suicide. (Espin and Rothlblum, p. 69) The raping of refugee women is unusually brutal; they are gang raped or raped repeatedly often for days at a time.  Refugee women’s experience while at camp produces both physical and emotional impact on them.

            First, they suffer from emotional trauma leaving them alone to confront the issue.  Cole, et.al., explained that for Asian and African women, being a rape victim is considered ‘ruined’ because their culture values virginity is “synonymous with purity” (p. 69).  As a result, they feel they lose all value in society and are rejected by their families.  Rape for Islam, Buddhist, and Taoist is associated with “karma” or punishment for the sin they have committed.  Thus, most of these women are unwilling to disclose the issue to others, in turn, their behavior show psychosomatic symptoms of these experiences.

Theilade LD. Explained that sexual dysfunction is possible to occur if a person has experienced sexual torture or non-sexual, physical, or non-physical torture. He further stated that this problem is “seen in up to fifty-one percent of torture victims (par. 1).  However, the development of sexual dysfunction may occur largely to people who suffered from sexual torture.  Sexual dysfunction could also be attributed to post traumatic stress disorder.(This info. came from Pubmed.www.pubmed.gov

Kemp and Rasbridge mentioned about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder by refugee women as a result of stress, physical or sexual torture, and trauma (p. 74).  Women who had been in this traumatic experience said that they avoided going out yet, due to their family responsibility, they had to force themselves to continue with daily activities. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder could be obtained if the person has previous anxiety disorder and other factor such as early childhood trauma or head injuries that may trigger the problem.  Generally, refugees suffer from mental health problem like flash backs and dreams and intense guilt or anger and the percentage is almost sixty-five percent, which lasted for many years especially when they do not receive treatment and support from family members.

            Moreover, these women are likely to sustain physical injuries.  Others contract venereal disease or sexually transmitted diseases.  Some became pregnant after the rape. Indeed, women are not only victims of general violence and the lack of health care, they also contending issues unambiguous to their biology and social status. However, despite of predicaments faces by refugee women, Florence Howe (1996) noted that refuge and displaced migrant women are likely to endure any situation.

Howe Asserted, “Refugee, displaced and migrant women in most cases display strength, endurance and resourcefulness and can contribute positively to countries of resettlement or to their origin on their return” (Howe, p. 213). Howe pointed out these women should be appropriately involved in decisions that affect them and their future, since it cannot be denied that women make significant but frequently unrecognized role as educators both in their families and their societies as Anthony Redmond noted (2006) “women will often be the first to deny themselves in favor of others, particularly children or male partners…” (Redmond, p. 21)


            As some authors pointed out, the international human rights and the United Nations has done enough to protect human rights particularly of the refugee women. But is a fact that abuses on women continues to dominate in many countries in the world particularly in refugee centers. Perhaps this social stigma can be attributed to the two of the most pressing problems of the society ever since, Poverty and discrimination.

            Thus no matter how many laws are legislated to protect women from abuses, or no matter how far is the international effort or even the United Nation’s effort to provide necessary protection for women’s right, these abuses on women will continue to persist unless the fundamental sources of the problems are addressed, although this problem maybe is as old as human civilization it self. Authorities therefore must not only look at the crime or run after the offenders but they should also consider the situations involve and gather evidences relating the crimes to the problems mentioned and suggest possible solution to the problems to law making body.

The United Nations and all international effort on combating abuses on women must also pay attention to this problem, and try to realign some of their resources to help address the two problems mentioned earlier, along with intensified efforts of the law enforcement to run after the criminal offenders to put them behind bars. Intensifying efforts of both the international body and law enforcements agencies against the offenders and social problems may not completely erased this disease of the society but it certainly will help curb the problem.

Work Cited

Baines, E.K. Vulnerable Bodies: Gender, the Un and the Global Refugee Crisis. USA:

Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2004.

Beyani, Chaloka. “The Needs of Refugee Women: A Human Rights Perspective.”

Women and Rights. Ed. Sweetman, Caroline. UK: Oxfam, 1995.

Cole, E., Espin, O., & Rothblum, E. Refugee Women and their Mental Health: Shattered

Societies, Shattered Lives. USA: Haworth Press, 1992.

Howe, F. Beijing and Beyond Toward the Twenty First-First Century of Women:

Includes the Complete Text of the Plattform for Action. USA: Florence Howe Graduate School and University Center, 1996.


Human Rights Watch World Report 1999.  New York: Human Rights Watch, 1998.

“Humanitarian Assistance: Protecting Refugee Women and Girls Remains a Significant

Challenge.” United States General Accounting Office. May 2003. http://books.google.com/books?id=WHZdHdprBWgC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_summary_r#PPP1,M1

Indra, D.M. Engendering Forced Migration: Theory and Practice.  USA: Berghahn


Kemp, C. & Rasbridge, L.A. Refugee and Immigrant Health: A Handbook for Health

Professionals, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Martin, S. F. Refugee Women. USA: Lexington Books, 2004.

Meyer, M.K. & Prugl, E. Gender Politics in Global Governance. USA: Rowman &

Littlefield Publishing, Inc., 1999.

Penn, M.L. & Nardos, R. Overcoming Violence Against Women and Girls: The

International Campaign to Eradicate a Worldwide Problem. USA: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2003.

Redmond, A. ABC of Conflict and Disaster. UK: Blackwell Publishing, 2006.

Stedman, S. J. & Tanner, F. Refugee Manipulation War, Politics, and the Abuse of

Human Suffering. USA: Brookings Institution Press, 2003.

Theilade, LD. “Sexual Dysfunction in Torture Victims.” PubMed. 2002 Oct

.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12407879?ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVAbstractPlusDrugs1

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