UN Women Executive Director Ms. Michelle Bachelet has raised concerns over insecurity facing Somali women and girls in refugee camps in Kenya.
“Women are raped in their homes, in the bushes and many times on the roads,” said Ms. Bachelet. “New arrivals don’t have shelters to sleep in and end up sleeping in the open outside the camps, exposing themselves to security risks.”
Ms. Bachelet said that women are discriminated against in the areas of access to wealth, decision-making and education. Discrimination against women starts in early childhood, with a preference for boys at birth.
Ms. Bachelet made her remarks at Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya, on 3 April 2011, while in the company of UN World Food Programme Executive Director Ms. Josette Sheeran and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Mr. Antonio Guterres. The three UN heads were assessing the nutritional conditions, security situation and state of women and children in the refugee camp. They also visited Ifo and Dagahaley refugee camps.
Mr. Guterres said that, since January, approximately 10,000 refugees have crossed the border to Kenya leading to congestion at Dadaab camp. Some 330,000 refugees are sheltering in the three camps after fleeing two decades of conflict in Somalia.
He said that his agency is discussing the issue of security with the government: “Security is a big concern for the Kenyan government. It is also our big concern.”
Ms. Bachelet spoke with women refugee leaders, who complained of high illiteracy among women and girls, which makes it difficult for them to compete equally with their male counterparts for opportunities.
“Girl child education needs to be supported to give them intellectual empowerment,” said Ms. Bachelet.
Women refugee leaders told Ms. Bachelet that high divorce rates and family breakdown among the refugees is worrying. They added that divorced women and neglected children are adversely affected by the loss of socio-economic support from their husbands and fathers, respectively.
One of the women leaders said: “Widows and orphans face many problems socially, economically and emotionally as they carry out responsibilities as heads of families. This often leads to sexual and economic exploitation and early marriages, while marital rape and sexual violence are also rampant. Many women are unemployed due to limited job opportunities, illiteracy and restricted movement outside the camp. We do not have money to start up self-employment initiatives. Elderly women have the least opportunities in the camps. This has disempowered women economically. We need income-generating activities to empower us.”
“Women and girls need and deserve much more,” said Ms. Bachelet. “We will do our part to support them.”