Sex Matters: A Gender Perspective on Internal Displacement

Christelle Cazabat

IDMC Briefing Paper, February 2019


Building on a review of nearly 1,000 publications, this briefing paper presents some of the most frequently reported gender inequalities linked to internal displacement, including:

  • Displaced men and boys may resort to harmful coping strategies if they lose their usual source of income. School-age boys may engage in child labor, interrupting their education and jeopardizing future livelihoods. Men and boys are particularly at risk of recruitment by armed groups, which increases insecurity for the entire community, potentially leading to further displacement. Actual or perceived association of men with conflict has been found to lead host communities to be less welcoming to them than to displaced women and children. Men have been found at higher risk of certain medical conditions associated with internal displacement. Men also seem more vulnerable to increased consumption of alcohol in situations of displacement. Erosion of status, through loss of work, home and social ties, has been shown to increase violence inflicted upon displaced women.
  • Internal displacement amplifies pre-existing vulnerabilities and inequalities (economic, social, legal, political) for displaced women and girls. Displaced women often suffer greater disadvantage than displaced men in the labor market. Inability to legally own or rent a house, or to secure enough income to pay for it, can lead displaced women to live in camps or informal settlements where they find fewer livelihood opportunities. Women and girls may also resort to transactional sex or prostitution, placing them at higher risk of sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies. Displaced pregnant women receive less antenatal care and are more exposed to violence, malnutrition, poor hygiene conditions and communicable diseases. Displaced and returning women may also be more vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety than displaced men or non-displaced women. Displaced women living in insecure shelters are at higher risk of sexual violence. Women and girls who return home after having been displaced often face stigmatization because of common knowledge of the prevalence of sexual violence. Violence against women can also take other forms (intimate partner violence including forced sex, forced abortions, control over contraception, and violence during pregnancy).
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, intersex or queer (LGBTIQ) displaced persons face specific challenges and suffer from formal or informal discrimination. The risk of gender-based violence increases in times of displacement for people from sexual minorities.