UNITED NATIONS, New York - Increased security and better design of humanitarian assistance are urgently needed to minimize attacks on women in areas affected by last week’s earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean, warns UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.
“At a time when countless women have been left to head up households and to care for children and other survivors, their security must be a top priority of all affected governments and relief workers,” UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid said on Tuesday.
Ms. Obaid’s comments came one day after a Sri Lanka-based women’s collective reported rape, molestation and physical abuse of displaced women and girls.
The collapse of communities and the disruption of the normal protective function of the family in the wake of last week’s disaster have left women extremely vulnerable in a region where sexual abuse, trafficking and exploitation were already issues of concern. In Sri Lanka, where more than one million people have been made homeless by the disaster, the disruption of basic policing has made the situation even worse.
According to UNFPA, the fear of sexual violence can impede the mobility of women, who often bear the primary burden of obtaining food, water and other necessary provisions for their families.
In addition to the immediate reestablishment and strengthening of policing, UNFPA is calling for the following steps to ensure the protection and security of women left destitute by the disaster:
- Including women and women’s groups in the planning and execution of all emergency response. This includes putting women in charge of food distribution, to minimize the possibility of exploitation of women and children.
- Special facilities in temporary refuge shelters for unaccompanied women and children, including separate sleeping areas, bathing facilities and latrines.
- Steps to ensure that women and girls do not need to venture out unprotected to gather food, clothing, water, cooking fuel and other essentials.
- The arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators of violent attacks against women and children.
- Immediate treatment and care for the victims of sexual and other forms of violence.
Protection of women and girls, and measures to prevent and treat cases of sexual violence, are among the special project areas UNFPA will address in urgent donor appeals to be launched later this week. The Fund has already made $3 million available for urgent health, hygiene and protection needs since the disaster struck on 26 December.
UNFPA is assisting governments and local populations in all the countries affected by the devastating earthquake and tsunami. To support the Fund's emergency response to the disaster or learn more, please visit www.unfpa.org.
David del Vecchio
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