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Yemeni refugee women in Djibouti can face economic, physical and even sexual domestic abuse, according to a recent Al Jazeera report. However, due to cultural stigma and fear of repercussions, many do not speak out about domestic violence and abuse. While conditions for all refugees are difficult, conditions for women refugees can be even more difficult. Al Jazeera reports that Yemeni refugee women may face economic abuse, when the male breadwinner withholds money from his wife, as well as physical or sexual abuse, though this often goes unrecorded—there is very little data on gender-based violence against refugees in Djibouti.
According to the report, Yemeni women do not always have outlets for sharing their familial tensions and frustration at harsh economic circumstances and camp conditions. Despite many cases of violence in the camp, women often do not report them, in fear that doing so may lead to the breakup of their families and divorce, which will bar them from being accepted when they return back to Yemen. Domestic violence contributes to making life for Yemeni refugee women nearly unbearable.
According to an October 2017 UNHCR report, gender-based violence “remains a challenge among the Yemeni refugee community,” due to cultural pre-dispositions and appeal to traditional legal codes. According to Dina Cihimba Rehema, UNHCR’s Markazi protection officer, Yemeni refugee women often feel as if they cannot openly discuss their problems. According to Rehema, there needs to be an effort to change these women’s mentality—“‘We have to reinforce sensitization for women to feel free and make it easy for them to talk about what they’re facing,’” she says.
Thousands from Yemen have fled to Djibouti in the wake of the civil war that started in 2015 between the Yemeni government, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, and the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, Al Jazeera reports. According to Bloomberg, the country continues to sink into a deep humanitarian crisis with Saudi Arabia’s bombings and economic blockade, along with widespread cholera and famine. Many Yemenis fleeing to Djibouti end up in Markazi refugee camp; as of May 2018, around 2,000 Yemen refugees are living in Markazi, reports Al Jazeera. Meanwhile, women have traditionally and continue to face pervasive discrimination in Yemen, report Human Rights Watch and Freedom House, contributing to a culture that allows gender-based violence and an affront against women’s rights to perpetuate, seen even in Markazi refugee camp.
Increased positive efforts have taken place in Markazi: According to the October 2017 UNHCR report, it, along with the National Union of Djiboutian Women (UNFD) and the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), provides legal and psycho-social support to victims of gender-based violence and runs periodic awareness campaigns on women’s empowerment. According to Al Jazeera, the UNFD has opened counseling centers, which train and employ refugees as counselors, as women feel more comfortable sharing in their own community. Reporting directly to UNFD’s office, counselors intake domestic violence cases and give women options in the face of domestic violence. In addition, the UNFD has conducted gender sensitization activities and educational outreach about human rights and sexual violence. However, more needs to be done.
Continued community efforts in the Markazi refugee camp are crucial to ensuring that women’s rights are respected, and women are empowered. Continuing to allow gender-based violence and domestic abuse against women is deeply troubling; what is also troubling is the lack of data on such abuses. International organizations and non-governmental human rights organizations can help create ways to collect more data on abuses and to spread more awareness globally about domestic abuses against Yemeni refugee women and against refugee women in general. They can also spur action across individual countries to reevaluate the laws and institutions establishing and governing women’s rights. For Yemeni refugee women, especially, it crucial to make efforts to create safe spaces for their voices to be heard and for their struggles to be shared—their communities are these spaces. Additionally, more efforts can be made to improve education not just for Yemeni refugee women, but for their families and communities as well. Ultimately, even greater positive change can be achieved—but only with increased and continued awareness and effort to ensure that Yemeni refugee women, and refugee women more broadly, are protected.