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Conflict, displacement and violence against women and girls in Mozambique

As the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) campaign draws to a close, LSHTM and UNHCR Mozambique launch a report on GBV in Mozambique.
Isabella, 50, fled with her family from Quissanga District in 2020 and is currently living with her husband, children, and grandchildren at the Nanjua B internally displaced persons relocation site.

Trigger warning: This blog contains information about gender and sexual violence and abuse which may be triggering to survivors.

By Dr Jennifer Palmer, Associate Professor and Co-Director of the Health in Humanitarian Crises Centre and Giulia D’Odorico, Research Fellow

In this blog, we – Jennifer and Giulia – look at the report findings and recommendations and share quotes from GBV service providers; highlighting the reality of the situation.

Giulia: in times of conflict, GBV is persistent and extremely serious

Having worked in humanitarian settings, I know that in times of conflict, upheaval and forced migration, GBV is a persistent and extremely serious issue.

Reports of GBV are common for refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) in violence and displacement-affected spaces. Prevention and support mechanisms are often disrupted, making it difficult to help GBV survivors.

Since violence started in 2017 in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, over 740,000 people have fled their homes. The GBV risks have worsened and help for GBV survivors dwindled.

“I don’t know if it is because in the resettlement sites men when they wake up, they do not have a proper house to stay, they do not know where to go and therefore feel frustrated, not a week goes by without us attending at least two-three cases of women who are physically assaulted at home.”
(GBV case worker, government service)

Our report with UNHCR Mozambique highlights the lack of data on the availability and accessibility of GBV services, and identifies opportunities for improvement.

Working in Pemba, Montepuez and Metuge districts, we identified those providing GBV responses, interviewed key informants and conducted focus group discussions with community-based volunteers, known as activistas.

Activistas refer most GBV cases to formal structures. As one activista explained it, these volunteers come from similar backgrounds and connect to GBV survivors, saying: “we are women, we are survivors and we are here to assist each other”.

Jennifer: GBV is widespread

Our work confirmed that GBV is widespread among IDPs. This includes intimate partner violence, physical and sexual violence, abduction, sexual trafficking, sexual exploitation and abuse, early and forced marriage, and economic violence.

Women and girls are disproportionally impacted by GBV, with adolescent girls at highest risk.

“A girl of 11 years old was attending the celebrations for a national festivity in a resettlement site. She stayed too late and she asked a man she knew to accompany her home. The man forced the girl to follow him into the bush and he raped her. The man then accompanied the girl home. Once at home, the girl spoke to the mother about what happened.”
(Community-based worker, international organisation)

Sexual exploitation and abuse seem to be pervasive in resettlement settings, particularly against single women, female-headed households and unaccompanied girls.

“The chief of the neighbourhood took advantage of a displaced woman who recently arrived to the IDP site. She did not have a place to stay. She had many children. She did not have any food to give to them. The chief told her that if she slept with him, he would give her food and a house.”
(GBV case worker, international organisation)

Women and girls with disabilities, men, boys, LGBT persons and sex workers are also at risk of GBV, although very few cases are documented and specific information on their experiences are lacking.

Both female and male populations have been exposed to physical and sexual violence and harassment by armed combatants in resettlement areas.

Intimate partner violence was heightened by the loss of jobs and income, as well as food and housing shortages.

The fact that resettlement camps and their distribution structures are led by men also increased the risk of GBV.

“Community leaders do not understand women’s perspectives. If a woman says to a community leader: ‘My husband raped me. He came, he wanted to have sexual intercourse with me, I refused and he hit me’, he may answer that the husband was right; she is the wife and she always has to serve the husband.”
(GBV case worker, government service)

We found that GBV services have been widely compromised by violence and displacement. However, in some areas, various have collaborated to adapt GBV programmes, for example, setting up Women’s and Girls’ Safe Spaces.

Barriers to overcome

There are many things that prevent GBV survivors from accessing services including: lack of knowledge about services, fear of retaliation, limited safe shelter, no access to judicial support, costs associated with care-seeking, stigma and victim blaming.

“Shame is a barrier. There are people that if women tell them what happened, they would laugh at them, they would speak ill at them. […] People do not understand, they judge. For instance, if someone rapes me […] I would not speak to anyone about this because I would feel ashamed. […] Everybody would speak about what happened and this would not be good for me.”
(Focus group discussion with women activistas, Montepuez)

Recommendations

The report makes extensive recommendations to encourage a survivor-centred approach.

For practitioners: adapt service provision models, ensure appropriate training and resources, coordinate responses, review protocols and engage with survivors and engage with communities.

For donor and policy makers: provide and prioritise funding, mainstream and coordinate GBV risk reduction programmes and support data collection and sharing.

For researchers, we highlight areas for future focus, including the drivers of GBV.

Download the full report in English (Portuguese to follow)

Download the report summary in English and Portuguese 

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