Women and Girls in Internal Displacement

Christelle Cazabat, Clémentine André, Vincent Fung, Raphaëlla Montandon, Hamish Patten, Sylvain Ponserre and Louisa Yasukawa

IDMC “Hidden in Plain Sight” Thematic Series, March 2020



This report presents estimates of the number of women and girls living in situations of internal displacement as a result of conflict and violence. The report also discusses the impacts of displacement on women and girls, highlights good practices and successful initiatives, and outlines policy options for governments and aid providers.

Key statistics:

  • More than half of the world’s 41 million IDPs at the end of 2018 were women and girls.
  • There were at least 2.6 million internally displaced girls under five, 4.6 million between five and 14, 3.9 million between 15 and 24, 7.9 million between 25 and 59, and 1.7 million women over 60.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of internally displaced women (8.2 million), followed by the Middle East and North Africa (5.5 million), the Americas (3.4 million), South Asia (1.8 million), Europe and Central Asia (1.5 million) and East Asia and the Pacific (400,000).
  • Nine countries had more than one million women and girls internally displaced by conflict and violence as of the end of 2018: Syria, Colombia, DRC, Somalia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Sudan.

The report highlights the most commonly reported impacts of internal displacement on women and girls, including:

  • Lasting impact on women’s ability to access and maintain livelihoods. While both male and female IDPs often struggle to establish livelihoods in host areas, surveys of IDPs in Ethiopia and Kenya show that women face greater challenges. Separation from or loss of male family members may leave displaced women as heads of household, which increases financial strain and insecurity. In countries where women have no legal right to own or rent property, displaced women may end up living in camps or informal settlements where few livelihood opportunities are available.
  • Heightened risk of gender-based violence. Displaced girls living in camps are particularly vulnerable to trafficking, and camps tend to be particularly hostile environments for women and girls due to the presence of armed men and the deterioration in housing conditions leaving IDPs more vulnerable to intrusion and attack. Some studies point to an increase in domestic violence following displacement. Women and girls may be forced to engage in transactional sex to survive, with heightened risks of violence and abuse. Insecurity may force girls to stay at home instead of going to school, decreasing future livelihood opportunities, and preventing girls and women from accessing essential services and participating in community life. Adolescent girls are at heightened risk of early marriage, with severe and long-lasting impacts.
  • Specific health needs can be more difficult to meet during displacement due to limited availability of services, stigma associated with sexual and reproductive health, lack of child-friendly and gender-sensitive information; and financial capacity. Inability to afford contraception or access age-sensitive reproductive health counseling, stigma surrounding sexual and reproductive health and other factors can lead to unintended pregnancies. Pregnant IDPs receive less antenatal care and are more exposed to violence, malnutrition, poor hygiene conditions and communicable diseases than non-displaced women and girls. The literature also shows that displaced and returnee women and girls suffer more from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety than displaced men and non-displaced women.
  • Increased obstacles to education. Displacement often aggravates gendered harmful social norms that discriminate and devalue girls’ education, which together with gender-based violence, early marriage and pregnancy, create obstacles to learning. However, displacement from a rural to an urban area, or even to a well-resourced camp, sometimes improves children’s access to schooling.
  • Increased likelihood of women being displaced. The proportion of women among IDPs is often higher than among the general population, possibly because men stay behind to fight or are killed in battle. Women’s greater vulnerability to many types of violence may also encourage them to abandon their homes faster than men.

The authors highlight provisions in various normative frameworks (including the 1998 Guiding Principles, 2009 Kampala Convention, 2006 Great Lakes Protocol, 2005 Pinheiro Protocol, 1995 Beijing Declaration, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development) that seek to ensure equal protections, rights and assistance for displaced women and girls.

The report concludes with the following recommendations for governments and humanitarian and development organizations:

  • Expand the collection of data on IDPs disaggregated by sex and age, and invest in gender-focused analyses;
  • Conduct assessments of displacement risk including a gender perspective;
  • Encourage collectors, analysts and users of data to collaborate more closely to ensure data are interoperable;
  • Encourage the systematic use of gender analyses based on data disaggregated by sex in humanitarian response plans;
  • Address the negative consequences of displacement for women and girls, but also identify and reinforce the opportunities it presents;
  • Consider not only the short-term but also the medium and longer-term impacts of displacement on women and girls through humanitarian and development plans;
  • Encourage the meaningful participation of displaced women and girls in the design, implementation and evaluation of programs intended to support and protect them;
  • Raise global awareness of the scale and severity of women’s and girls’ displacement associated with conflict, violence, disasters and climate change, with the aim of increasing political commitment and financial investment in reducing the phenomenon;
  • Review progress against commitments made in the Beijing Declaration, the 2030 Agenda and other normative frameworks intended to prevent and address internal displacement’s consequences on women and girls.