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  1. ITV Report

Government to urge for action to protect women and girls in emergency situations

A Syrian girl waves from the balcony of an unfinished apartment block in northern Lebanon. Photo: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development

The Government will urge for international action to protect women and girls from violence and sexual exploitation in emergency situations.

Girls and women in crisis situations, such as flood, famine and conflict, face a greater risk of abuse, violence, forced marriage and sexual exploitation.

Intervention in these cases are often not prioritised because their situation is not thought to be life-threatening.

Syrian women receive advice on how to protect themselves from violence. Credit: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development

The Department for International Development will host an event for donors, the United Nations and international non-governmental organisations and urge that abuse and violence against women and girls is prioritised during a crisis.

The pledge comes after a report suggested that female Palestinian and Syrian refugees in Lebanon are vulnerable to abuse.

Since the Syria conflict began almost two million people have fled the country, according to figures released by the United Nations.

Almost two million people have fled Syria since the start of the conflict. Credit: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development

Around one million refugees are believed to be in Lebanon - nearly a quarter of the country's population - and many women are in danger of being abused or sexually exploited, according to a report by Oxfam and ABAAD - Resource Center for Gender Equality.

The research suggests that men in refugee camps have low self-esteem because of the situation they find themselves in and vent their frustration towards women and girls.

Violence towards women and children has increased as some men vent their frustration and abuse their power within the household. Outside the household, there are also examples of women and girls who are vulnerable to physical and verbal harassment, including sexual harassment, and in many areas they fear kidnap, robbery, and attacks.

Widowed or other women on their own are particularly vulnerable, with some pretending in public to receive phone calls from their former husbands, to protect themselves from male harassment.

– Shifting Sands report by Oxfam and ABAAD - Resource Center for Gender Equality

Early marriage of daughters - which was common in Syria before the conflict began - also increased in refugee camps as a way to either protect young girls or ease financial pressures on the family, the report suggested.

A Syrian refugee woman with her daughter in their unfinished apartment in Lebanon. Credit: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development

The research also detailed what it was like for a woman in an overcrowded house in a refugee camp.

Living in overcrowded conditions means that many women are no longer able to go into a different room whenever men who are not relatives come to visit male family members, as they would have done before.

Now, if an unrelated man visits the household, women go to their female neighbour’s house until a man separates the room with bedsheets.

Women can then stay behind these bedsheets so that they are not seen by the visitors.

– Shifting Sands report by Oxfam and ABAAD - Resource Center for Gender Equality

It was also suggested that only one in four refugee children attend school - partly because of fears that it could be unsafe for girls to travel.

Syrian children outside their makeshift 'home', in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Credit: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development

Research from the Department for International Development shows:

  • Syria - Violence towards women and children increased after some men vented their frustration and abused the power they hold within the household.
  • Haiti - A year and a half after the earthquake, sexual abuse and exploitation were widespread.
  • Kenya - Reports of violent attacks on girls and women in the Dadaab camps after the droughts in August 2011 nearly doubled, including rape, forced marriage and abuse.
  • Horn of Africa - Families married off daughters as young as nine-years-old to receive their dowries in kind before their livestock died, during the 2011 drought.
  • Bangladesh - 62% of under-18-year-olds married between 2007 and 2011 were married in the year following Cyclone Sidr.
  • Rates of unintended pregnancies, maternal mortality, disability, unsafe abortions, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, rise in crisis situations.