During humanitarian crises, gender-based violence (GBV) is a life-threatening health and protection issue, often continuing beyond the early phases of emergencies. GBV is a common violation faced by internally displaced people (IDPs), particularly for women and girls, but also for men and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) populations.
Specific evidence to guide GBV responses in Cabo Delgado is needed. In the province of Cabo Delgado, in northern Mozambique, over 740,000 people have fled the north-eastern and central parts of the province since armed conflict began in 2017. Existing evidence suggests that GBV has been a key feature of the conflict. However, specific information that could guide humanitarian responses on the forms and drivers of GBV and the availability and reach of existing GBV services is missing or unclear.
This rapid assessment, carried out by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), in collaboration with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Mozambique, sought to understand the GBV risks and response for displaced populations in Cabo Delgado. Information was collected through qualitative interviews with GBV service providers and focus group discussions (FGDs) with community-based volunteers involved in the GBV response. Data was collected between August and October 2021 in the districts of Metuge, Montepuez and Pemba. All research activities followed existing guidelines on safe and ethical research on GBV in emergencies.
The conflict in Cabo Delgado has had a devastating impact, especially for women and girls who are experiencing ongoing and new forms of GBV.
The crisis has compounded multiple forms of GBV including intimate partner violence (IPV), physical and sexual violence, abduction, sexual trafficking, sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA), early and forced marriage, and economic violence. Existing support structures and prevention measures have been widely compromised by conflict and displacement, leaving the urgent needs of GBV survivors overwhelming unaddressed.
Different vulnerable groups have different GBVrelated risks. Adolescent girls are at particular risk of abduction, sexual violence, early and forced marriage, and trafficking in conflict-affected areas. Sexual exploitation and abuse appear to be pervasive in IDP locations and in some host communities, particularly against single women, female-headed households and unaccompanied girls. Disabled women and girls are also considered a high-risk group, although knowledge on the extent and forms of violence against them is still very limited. Men and boys and LGBTI persons were also identified as a high-risk group, particularly of physical and sexual violence by armed combatants, although very few cases are reported.
Displaced populations face heightened GBV risks in IDP sites and host community areas where they seek safety. In IDP sites, both the female and male population are exposed to physical and sexual violence and harassment by armed actors. Many displaced people lack civil identification documentation which exposes them to physical and sexual violence from armed actors, particularly sex workers. Traditional discourses about the insecurity that IDPs face often promote men’s roles in protecting women while normalising and amplifying controlling behaviours towards women and girls, which may restrict some women and girls from seeking support.
Socio-economic vulnerability related to the crisis is increasing vulnerability to GBV. IPV and early or forced marriage were reported by families who have lost their livelihoods, and experienced acute food insecurity and housing instability due to the crisis. Other forms of GBV are directly linked to the socioeconomic vulnerability of already at-risk groups. This includes the sexual and economic exploitation and abuse of women and girls within a wider context of transactional sex and unequal gender norms within household, community leadership and humanitarian assistance distribution structures. The socio-economic risk factors of GBV need to be addressed by GBV responses and humanitarian programs.
Existing government GBV services have been extensively disrupted by the conflict and displacement, particularly in the hard-to-reach northeastern and central zones of the province from where many GBV service providers had to flee or interrupt the provision of services. In the southern districts where most displaced people have found refuge, government actors and humanitarian agencies are collaborating to adapt GBV programmes to the new context and needs. Several women’s and girls’ safe spaces have been created, while other key structures have been strengthened, such as volunteer-led community awareness programmes, and outreach programmes.
There is a grave lack of access to essential support for GBV survivors especially for the most at-risk groups in remote conflict-affected locations. GBV survivors’ safety, care and recuperation are impacted by gaps in access to comprehensive GBV case management. These include access to healthcare, social services, safety support (including safe shelter and women and girl’s safe spaces), and access to justice and protection which are especially lacking in the north-east. Across the province, multiple barriers are preventing access to existing government and NGO services, such as limited resourcing and capacity, long travel distances, stigma and limited community awareness.
The capacity of GBV services to provide quality responses in line with national and international guidance is limited due to the scale of needs, lack of adequate resourcing and limited technical capacity building. Some service providers lack protocols and guidance adapted to specific GBV needs found in a conflict and displacement context. The risk that responders may reinforce harmful gender norms, discrimination and harm is a particular concern given that many service providers appear to lack knowledge of frameworks that should guide quality survivor-centred care.
Existing GBV response programs are still adapting to the new crisis context. There is an urgent need to fully engage with the groups at heightened risk of GBV and understand how displacement and conflict have created new vulnerability dynamics. Vulnerable groups include sex workers, women and girl heads of households, unaccompanied and separated children, adolescent girls, LGBTI persons, persons with disabilities, and men and boy survivors. However, existing programs often lack resources, training and guidance to effectively and safely respond to their specific GBV needs.
Coordination between GBV response services is limited and impacts quality and holistic care for survivors. Service providers are often not aware of other programs or options available for survivor support, thereby reducing their capacity to provide integrated support to survivors. Equally, information and data related to GBV risks and needs is not always shared between actors to improve response.
Recommendations to improve GBV prevention and response for vulnerable groups in Cabo Delgado include: providing urgent funding to scale up survivor-centred GBV response service provision across the province; ensuring that essential GBV services are provided by trained service providers and are accessible to all vulnerable communities; fostering strong community-engagement and robust coordination between government, NGOs actors and the community; mainstreaming GBV risk reduction programs, especially to protect against SEA, across all humanitarian sector programs; strengthening linkages with livelihood and other development actors as part of integrated response services; and supporting further research to develop effective programmes for at-risk groups, particularly adolescent girls.