Sri Lanka has come together to provide relief from food and clothes to those volunteering to swim muddy waters to rescue people trapped in houses.
As rescue efforts continue, victims are being taken to temporary shelters. Families – men, women, children, wait in shelters and are vulnerable to disease and discrimination. Women and girls more so than men.
The living conditions and physical features in these displacement environments are a very real source of danger for women and girls, according to the State of the World Population Report (SOWP) ‘Shelter from the Storm’ 2015.
In these settings, there are a number of characteristics that are commonly identified as risk factors for gender-based violence: overcrowding, the lack of privacy, doors that have no locks, shared latrines and sleeping facilities, inadequate bathing and latrine facilities, inadequate lighting or power outages – are some of the leading risk factors.
It’s happened here before
And it’s happened in Sri Lanka. Going back to just over a decade ago, when Sri Lanka was struck by one of its worst natural disasters to date – the Tsunami of 2005 – there were several incidents of abuse reported.
Oxfam interviewed a woman in one of the tsunami displacement camps who said, “In the night we get scared because there are no lights. It’s frightening for us, we know there are snakes and you can’t see who is around the toilets and washing areas.”
A field officer, with Sarvodaya, P. Velunagagam, narrated “last week there was a problem between a man and his wife. The government is giving people payments after they lost their relatives and houses in the tsunami. The husband went to claim the payment and spent it on Arrack [a local liquor made from palm sap] to get drunk. The wife asked where the money had gone so he hit her… We couldn’t take her to a doctor because she refused to see one or to speak of it.”
Why do crises make women and girls more vulnerable to violence? According to the SWOP report, crises often lead to changes in gender relations within the family, which in turn can increase the risk of intimate partner violence. These changes are especially prominent in displacement settings.
While men face unemployment, the loss of their livelihoods, idleness and frustration, women may assume breadwinning responsibilities. The shift may lead to a ‘crisis of identity’ among some men. Inflicting violence against their partners, as well as children, is seen by some men as a means to reassert their power, dominance and masculinity.
This is a fact.
It’s been reported and recorded in the report that following the Nepal earthquakes, and the cyclones in Vania and Atu, there was an increase in intimate partner violence.
Sri Lanka in this setting, and right now experiences severe flooding and landslides, is no different.
Stay informed and stay safe. If you or anyone you know is at risk of or are experiencing gender-based violence while at a shelter, be sure to report it to the police. It’s not only for your safety, but for the safety of women and girls in the shelter as well.