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An Unequal Emergency: CARE Rapid Gender Analysis of the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela

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Executive Summary

This combined Rapid Gender Analysis (RGA) provides information and observations on the different needs, capacities and coping strategies of Venezuelan women, men, and LGBTIQ+ individuals in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. It seeks to understand how gender roles and relations have changed as a result of the crisis and share recommendations for how the humanitarian community can more effectively consider these changing dynamics to better meet the different needs of each group. It is based on a combination of primary and secondary data collection and analysis from each of the the 4 contexts through RGAs held over a 12 month period (2019-2020) -- including focus group discussions and key informant interviews (KIIs). It was then updated with secondary data related to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The crisis in Venezuela, and the resultant refugee and migrant crisis in the region, is characterized by highly gendered dynamics that have taken a significant toll on the health and welfare on all those affected, but particularly on women, girls and LGBTIQ+ people. Refugee and migrant women, girls, and LGBTIQ+ people face profound vulnerabilities as they leave Venezuela and traverse Colombia, Ecuador and Peru in search of temporary or permanent destinations. Some groups within this migratory flow face particular risks, including indigenous populations, adolescent girls, and pregnant and breastfeeding women, among others.

Venezuela, like many other countries in the region, is a society where traditional gender stereotypes persist. Men control most assets, resources and decision-making and are predominantly the primary breadwinners; women's principal roles are domestic including child-rearing with limited decision-making in the household. The gravity of the ongoing crisis in Venezuela, including food scarcity and loss of livelihoods, has expanded the roles and responsibilities of women, requiring them to develop solutions to feed their families in the face of hyperinflation and a collapsed health system while at the same time assuming income-generating roles. These social and economic changes are also challenging power dynamics within households, which can lead to increased rates of intimate partner violence (IPV). Given the traditional gender roles, men and boys have been most likely to leave the home for livelihood opportunities elsewhere or to join the opposition movement, further expanding the role of women, and adolescent girls, who often take on the roles of adults and caretakers in the absence of their mothers.

Results from RGAs in each country show a normalization of GBV, including high levels of sexual violence. Transactional sex is a common-place coping strategy, with Venezuelans accounting for high rates of transactional sex workers, and women, girls and gender-diverse individuals facing significant risks of sexual exploitation and trafficking. Venezuelan migrant and refugee women, girls and gender-diverse individuals in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, are at risk of trafficking, domestic and sex slavery and other forms of exploitation and abuse. Lack of documentation and/or limited awareness of their rights based on their current documentation status further exacerbates the potential for exploitation. Nonetheless, reporting rates of GBV remain low; survey and focus group discussion results show limited knowledge of appropriate services, and low levels of trust in those services. Migrant and refugee GBV survivors fear deportation and retaliation if they report incidents to the authorities.

Food shortages and hyperinflation, the crumbling of public services such as water and sanitation, and the collapsed health system in Venezuela -- compounded by significant limitations on women and girls' bodily autonomy such as limited access to sexual and reproductive health services -- encourage pregnant women and girls, sexual minorities, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) positive individuals, and persons with disabilities and chronic disease to migrate to other countries in the region. Many migrants and refugees have no choice but to live on the streets or in informal settlements away from public services. Beyond the scale of the response, there are challenges related to inadequate participation of crisis-affected populations in decision- making and through feedback mechanisms.

Findings from the four countries highlight the importance of implementing or strengthening programs that meet the different needs of women, men, and LGBTIQ+ people across various sectoral areas, including livelihoods, food security, water, sanitation and hygiene, sexual and reproductive health, and protection, with an important focus on GBV within and across these sectors. It also highlights the fact that existing gender inequalities in each sector are being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic as measures have disproportionate impacts on refugee and migrant populations. This report therefore outlines a summarized set of recommendations that have emerged as common across the four contexts. More detailed recommendations for different actors in each context can be found in the individual country RGA.

Key Recommendations

This combined report provides overarching recommendations that are common across the four contexts. These recommendations call on governments, humanitarian actors and donors to recognise and address gendered differences in needs, priorities and vulnerabilities within Venezuelan and among Venezuelan migrant and refugee communities in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru; especially in the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Key recommendations include:

  • Mainstream key gender and protection approaches in line with GBV principles and risk mitigation measures across all response sectors including Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), WASH, shelter, food, nutrition and livelihoods and assistance modalities;

  • Ensure humanitarian action considers the unique needs of women, men, girls, boys, and LGBTQI+ people individuals facing multiple, intersecting vulnerabilities;

  • Ensure meaningful participation of crisis-affected populations, particularly women, girls, and LGBTQI+ people by actively and including their existing leadership;

  • Meet the urgent protection and GBV-related needs faced by women and adolescent girls, as well as LGBTIQ+ people individuals;

  • Strengthen the Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) response in line with the Minimum Initial Service Package (MISP) for SRH in Crisis Settings;

  • Support cash and voucher assistance, income-generating activities and safe and dignified employment options, based on a gender-sensitive market and risk analysis;

  • Ensure the availability of safe shelter and housing options, particularly for women and girls travelling alone, or with young children;

  • Urgently address food security and nutrition concerns, with a particular focus on the needs and vulnerabilities of women and girls on the move.