26 November 2018 – UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi called today for renewed and bold action to better protect refugees and displaced people from sexual and gender-based violence, or SGBV, in the workplace.
“The world of work can be particularly risky for refugees and other forcibly displaced people. Many are left with no choice but the informal sector, exposing them to unsafe and abusive working conditions, including gender-based violence,” said Grandi, echoing this year’s theme for the 16 Days of Activism, ‘End Gender-Based Violence in the world of work’.
As the world marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UNHCR regrets that access to safe and lawful employment remains a distant reality for many refugees in their countries of asylum. Granting them the right to work and to access markets where they can sell their products would undoubtedly reduce the risk of sexual violence. It would also enable them to be more self-reliant and to contribute to the economies of their host communities in safety and dignity.
“We need bolder and stronger measures to protect refugee women and girls who continue to be exposed to sexual and gender-based violence. For many, the risk of being raped or sexually abused permeates every aspect of their life, even the most basic tasks such as collecting water and firewood. I hope the international community will renew its commitment to ending these violent acts, and its focus on urgent practical solutions,” said UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie.
Since 2014, UNHCR, in partnership with Safe from the Start, an anti-SGBV initiative supported by the US Government, has developed 15 new projects to reduce the risk of SGBV through access to cooking energy and the creation of livelihood opportunities for refugee women. For instance, the MADE51 artisan initiative allows refugee artisans, many of them women at risk of SGBV, to receive expert product development support and access to international marketing channels and sustainable livelihoods.
The High Commissioner noted that the organization is also actively engaged in the fight against sexual violence affecting its own personnel. “Sexual harassment is both unacceptable and unjustifiable and we have taken a series of decisive actions to ensure a safe and respectful work environment for all colleagues. These include an independent helpline for colleagues who want to report misconduct or need advice. This is a key priority for the organization,” he said.