The Impact of COVID-19 on Women Refugees

Yasmina Benslimane

As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, it has become obvious that refugees face a particular set of issues. Indeed, over 80% of the 71 million individuals forcibly displaced around the world are re-settled in low- and middle-income nations. They suffer from added risks of having limited access to water, sanitation systems and health facilities. Several concerns were raised about how far can refugees be socially distanced in such hectic environments. Furthermore, language barriers and apprehension about officials due to deportation fears, may prevent refugees from getting tested. Widespread hunger has been documented in many refugee settlements as a result of social distancing orders and limited access to food rations.

It is no secret that the pandemic has exacerbated gender inequalities. As a matter of fact, lockdown measures have shown that all types of violence against women and girls has intensified. According to UN Women, one in three women worldwide experience physical or sexual violence mostly by an intimate partner. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi stated that: “The unprecedented socio-economic impacts of the pandemic are leaving many lives in peril. We are seeing extremely worrying increases in reports of gender-based violence, including domestic violence, forced marriages, child labour and adolescent pregnancies.” The pandemic has had a brutal and pejorative impact on refugees all around the world. As for women refugees in particular, they have been facing a "triple crisis": COVID-19, displacement, and gender-based violence.

A massive consequence on women refugees is the additional unpaid household chores and caregiving, having some of them turning to precarious jobs in the informal sector, or onto the streets. Due to this burden, opportunities for education are diminished while exposure to the virus is increased. The pandemic is also dramatically impacting refugee girls’ education as many are forced to drop out of school and sold off to get married. As a result of the pandemic, an additional 13 million girls are at risk of forced marriage as some refugee families are on the bridge of extreme poverty.

The pandemic's immediate implications through governmental responses, neglected women refugees’ needs, including their SRHR. Most refugees were not considered for COVID-19 initiatives, and policies imposed limitations that had a direct impact on their well-being. The interlocking challenges that refugee women experience necessitate a gendered perspective of the global health issue. CEDAW, the ICCPR, the ICESCR, the UDHR, and the UN Declaration on Violence Against Women are among the international legal instruments that protect women refugees. Nevertheless, not all of these international legal instruments have been ratified universally. As a result, several countries have yet to adopt them into their legal structures. COVID-19 will without a doubt lead to long-term consequences that will exacerbate the violence and insecurity suffered by women refugees if governments, NGOs, and civil society organizations do not address them.