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CARE Rapid Gender Analysis - Latin America & Caribbean: Venezuelan Migrants & Refugees in Colombia (May 2019)

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Executive Summary

This Rapid Gender Analysis provides preliminary information and observations on the different needs, capacities and coping strategies of Venezuelan migrant and refugee women, men, boys, and girls in Colombia. 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 women, men, boys and girls of different ages, abilities and other contextually relevant forms of diversity.

The refugee and migrant crisis in Colombia is characterized by gendered dynamics and has taken a significant toll on the health and welfare on all those affected, but particularly on women and girls. Refugee and migrant women and girls face profound vulnerabilities as they leave Venezuela and either cross Colombia or stay in various locations across the country; this is even more the case for those at increased risk, such as indigenous populations, adolescent girls, etc. Initial field observations suggest a normalization of gender based violence, including high levels of sexual violence. Transactional sex / survival sex is a common-place coping strategy, with Venezuelans accounting for high rates of transactional sex workers.

Women and girls (both Venezuelan and Colombian) face significant risks related to human trafficking.

Despite all this, the level of reporting remains extremely low. Victims of sexual and gender based violence fear deportation and retaliation if they report incidents to the authorities.
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.

This social and economic changes are also challenging power dynamics within households, which can lead to increased rates of intimate partner violence. 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.

This is a complex crisis characterized by mixed cross-border migration, compounded by the already complicated armed conflict in Colombia. Many Venezuelans enter Colombia at over 130 informal border crossings – a number of which may be controlled by armed groups and criminal gangs. Informal crossings also result in severe under-estimation of the scale of the crisis and in lack of accurate age and sex disaggregated data. There are troubling indications of sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls at informal border crossings, which need to be followed up with a more rigorous examination of the situation.

Venezuelan migrants and refugees in Colombia, particularly women, girls, men and boys are easy targets for trafficking, domestic and sex slavery and other forms of exploitation and abuse. Lack of documentation of migrants and refugees and/or limited awareness of their rights based on their current documentation status further exacerbates the potential for exploitation. In the absence of manageable options, women and adolescent girls, children, sexual and gender minorities and even male youth face extremely high risk of resorting to transactional sex as a means of survival.
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, HIV positive individuals, and persons with disabilities and chronic disease to migrate to Colombia. As a result, their protection risks multiply exponentially, and in many cases, result in even greater health and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) needs.

Although humanitarian response in ongoing in border areas such as La Guajira and Norte de Santander in Colombia, it is not commensurate to the scale of need. Many migrants and refugees have no choice but to live on the streets or in informal settlements away from public services. In addition, the over-burdening of border towns is slowly resulting in migration to other parts of the country such as Santa Marta and Baranquilla. The situation is even more dire further away from the main towns. Beyond the scale of the response, there are challenges related to inadequate participation of crisis-affected populations in decisionmaking and through feedback mechanisms.
In light of the above findings, the following report includes recommendations aimed at improving mainstreaming gender and protection across all sector responses, as well as for specific gender, protection and SRHR programming.