Cross-cutting issues: women and girls
What is sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV)?While there is no universal definition of SGBV, it typically includes physical and sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls, including rape, abuse or harassment, intimate partner violence (IPV), forced prostitution, or any physical, sexual or psychological violence. Wider definitions of SGBV include child marriage, female genital mutilation, social exclusion based on sexual orientation, infanticide, denial of education for girls or women, the forcible recruitment of boys into armed militia, honour killings, or sex trafficking1,3.
Prevalence of SGBVThe World Health Organization estimates (2013) indicate that 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime4. In conflict and disaster settings, instability and insecure living environments can result in increased levels of SGBV perpetrated particularly against women and girls2. Insecure living environments, including a lack of lighting at night, lack of guardians or supervision, and/or latrines that are located far away from their shelters put women and girls at increased risk of experiencing SGBV.Although boys and men are also targeted as victims of SGBV, these cases are less common. Despite recent initiatives, such as the 2014 Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, SGBV is still an area that lacks large-scale reliable data in emergency settings2,5, and is likely underreported due to stigma, social norms, customs that support SGBV, inadequate laws, and a lack of enforcement to protect women and girls’ rights. In crisis settings underreporting is also likely to be worse as there is already a major breakdown of the system6,7.
What are the health impacts of SGBV in crisis settings?Women and girls who experience SGBV are susceptible to a wide range of health issues. In conflict settings, women and girls have experienced being raped with the intent to impregnate them, been forced to carry pregnancies to term and in turn forced to have abortions, and infected with STIs or HIV8.In humanitarian settings the risk of IPV is often higher too, as traditional gender roles tend to be further embraced in times of crisis. Women or girls who have experienced IPV are more likely to also experience death and injury, substance abuse problems, or give birth to low-weight babies. Additionally, women and girls who have experienced partner violence are nearly twice as likely to experience depression than those who have not experienced any violence8. Furthermore, SGBV can have a direct impact on a survivor’s sexual, physical, and emotional health, and increase the risk of future ill-health6,9.
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London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine online course,
Health in Humanitarian Crises
Cross-cutting summaryFrom each of these three cross-cutting issues we have seen that certain groups within society are more susceptible to harm during crises, and that there is much work to be done to reduce risks to their health and address those which may already exist.Can you think of any further cross-cutting issues? If so, what problems do they present for affected populations during times of crisis? How can those problems be resolved?
Health in Humanitarian Crises
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