Gender in Focus: The Role of Women in the European Refugee Crisis (Part 1)

Rhea Malviya:

Representational Image Artist :Kelly Simpson Source:

The issue of gender has largely gone unnoticed in the larger ‘Refugee Crisis’ in the European Union today. Yet, the European Parliament has found that the number of female arrivals to the EU has increased since 2015. On top of this, more women are travelling to EU alone; many prospective male arrivals believe that sending ‘vulnerable’ women and children ahead of them will serve as a better guarantee for gaining entry into the EU. Other cases involve women who are travelling alone because they are single or they have lost their husbands to conflict. Many families also deal with separation at the hands of smugglers or EU officials, which isolates these women from their support systems. The shift in demographics of arrivals to the EU and the increasing vulnerability of these women as they embark on their journeys by themselves demands a shift in the targeted organisational and institutional support towards these women in need.

Women arriving to the EU are prone to numerous risks and obstacles en route to their final destinations. After all, gender inequalities and prejudiced-thinking abound in both their countries of origin and their host countries here in the EU. Among the issues these women face is their increased risk of facing physical exploitation by not only their own family members, but also smugglers, human traffickers, and officials at reception and detention centres. The European Parliament found that women are often coerced into ‘survival sex’ by smugglers, face harassment by EU officials at reception sites, and risk exploitation by other refugees at these same centres. These women must endure all of this on top of the existing trauma of fleeing such mistreatment in their countries of origin. Yet, the lack of data on SGBV towards female arrivals in the EU has resulted in the prevailing view among humanitarian actors that it is a non-issue within the larger Refugee Crisis. The task of measuring and addressing their protection needs are challenged further as survivors of SGBV often do not come forward about their experiences unless any visible health consequences arise.

As women inevitably become a more visible demographic among those fleeing to the EU, their protection needs must begin to come first. Here at She Matters, we aspire to advocate on behalf of these women for more gender-inclusive policy-making, both locally and European-wide, that is tuned into the risks that they face on a daily-basis. Besides, these women have a long way to go before entering the European labour market. And we want to help them get there, safe and sound.

Our upcoming International Humanitarian Studies Association panel, ‘Gender in Focus’, will be touching on this and more. Want to know how YOU can help? Well, our panel needs more papers! The deadline ends on June 30th! For those who wish to contribute, find out more here:

Reproduced with permission from She Matters; our contributing partner.

About the writer:

Rhea Malviya is a rising fourth-year undergraduate student at The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs where she majors in International Affairs, concentrating in Conflict Resolution, and minors in Sociocultural Anthropology. 

Rhea has worked previously with refugees at the International Rescue Committee and the Tahirih Justice Center, where she assisted the Social Services and Legal Departments, in Baltimore, Maryland. 

Rhea was drawn to She Matters‘ mission because she believes that women and girls are too often neglected in humanitarian crises. She hopes to assist She Matters in emphasising the salience of women’s issues in the larger Refugee Crisis. 

About She Matters:

She Matters empowers refugee and migrant women in the Netherlands to build their social and economic capital, boost their self-confidence as well as become leaders in their homes, businesses, and communities.

She Matters envisions a world where all refugee and migrant women:

  • are empowered to fully participate in economic life across all sectors;
  • have equal access to education and political participation;
  • are free from violence;
  • have the support and services they need to thrive in daily life;
  • inform and drive their own solutions and development.


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