Trinidad and Tobago + 5 more

UNHCR MCO Panama | Thematic Notes | 2021: Gender-based violence (GBV) - Reinforcing prevention, risk mitigation and response interventions


Main risks and expression of GBV against refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in MCO Panama Operations

  • Domestic violence
  • Sexual assault
  • Sexual harassment
  • Forced sex work and human trafficking
  • Survival sex
  • Violence against members of the LGBTI community


GBV threatens displaced women, girls, boys and men in all regions of the world, and remains a particular concern in countries covered under the Panama Multi-Country Office. In addition, the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent movement restrictions have exacerbated existing risks of GBV and have revealed impacts that affect people differently depending on their gender.

In 2021, refugee and asylum-seeking women are more likely to hold precarious jobs in the informal sector and a high proportion would face burdensome unpaid caregiving responsibilities, including caring for sick family members and children who are unable to attend school. Disruption in education may further increase the risk of GBV for adolescent girls and boys. Regarding Venezuelan refugee and migrant women, prevailing social norms with regards to gender roles and perceptions are related to incidents of intimidation and sexual harassment in host countries. People presumed to have been trafficked and/or engaged in sex work, including women, girls and LGBTI persons are also at higher risk, including further abuse and exploitation, as well as additional impacts to their mental and physical health.

UNHCR has strengthened GBV prevention, risk mitigation and response mechanisms across its operations covered under the Panama Multi-Country Office through the deployment of dedicated staff to address GBV, legal support for asylum seeking and refugee men and women affected by GBV,, mental health support and access to post exposure prophylaxis kits, and safe spaces. In addition, UNHCR continues to engage the community in the identification of risks, planning responses and delivery of assistance, including the provision of GBV risk mitigation activities.


Ensuring access to essential services and information for women and girls: In Guyana, UNHCR reinforced its GBV response to sex workers through outreach, establishment of virtual support groups, and providing psychosocial support and counselling services to survivors of GBV. In Panama, UNHCR and partners conducted online workshops focusing on services and response for GBV survivors and developed an essential services pocket guide for survivors.

Strengthening GBV prevention, risk mitigation and response: In Trinidad and Tobago, immediate response for survivors of incidents of gender-based violence is ensured by UNHCR through medical and psychosocial/psychological support and one-off financial assistance, when need-ed. In Panama, the SGBV Working Group established new communication channels to provide information and attention to individuals at risk of continued GBV through secure telephone lines, WhatsApp, and dedicated email accounts. In Guyana, the provision of shelter and NFI, food baskets and livelihood opportunities were increased to benefit GBV survivors.

Financial gaps

Recent reports and studies have demonstrated that GBV funding accounts for only 0.12 per cent of all humanitarian funding, negatively impacting lifesaving services like health and safe spaces for survivors. In this context, UNHCR requires additional contributions to offer a comprehensive response and to enhance support to refugee, asylum seeker and returnee GBV survivors, while promoting their empowerment. Additional funds are also required to deploy dedicated staff to reinforce prevention, response and mitigation of future risks related to GBV.