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Displaced Colombian women at greater risk of gender-based violence ? rights group

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 15 Nov 2012 11:46 GMT
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BOGOTA (TrustLaw) - Colombian authorities must do more to provide justice and healthcare to the tens of thousands of displaced women and girls who have suffered physical and sexual violence at the hands of their partners or factions in Colombia’s armed conflict, Human Rights Watch said.

Women and girls who have been driven from their homes by fighting between government troops, leftist rebels and right-wing paramilitary groups that has lasted nearly 50 years are at heightened risk of sexual and domestic violence, according to a new report published on Wednesday by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“Gender-based violence is a risk for all women in Colombia, but the problem is more acute for displaced women and girls,” the report said.

Colombia has one of the world's largest internally displaced populations, estimated at up to four million people of whom roughly half are women and girls.

“For many displaced women and girls, the hardships of displacement are compounded by the trauma of rape and domestic violence,” said Amanda Klasing, the report’s author and women’s rights researcher at HRW.

Nearly half the women who have been uprooted because of Colombia’s conflict have been  victims of domestic violence, compared with 37 percent of women among the general population, according to a 2011 government sponsored survey.

DISPLACED MOST VULNERABLE

Many Colombian women and girls who are driven from their homes in the countryside to escape violence settle in slum neighbourhoods on the outskirts of the country's main cities, where state health services are overstretched or hard to access.

Few displaced women have formal jobs, and many live in poverty and scrape a living as cleaners and street vendors to provide for their families.

“Compared to the general population, they (displaced women and girls) often have less familiarity with the health institutions and service providers in the places where they have settled, less money to cover transportation costs, and greater fear of retribution from their victimizers if they seek care,” the HRW report said.

Some displaced women who have suffered sexual and domestic violence doubt they will receive help from the police, while others do not know where to get help and how to report the crime, the HRW report found.

“For many displaced women and girls, these obstacles of poor service and lack of information are compounded by the precarious circumstances in which they live,” the report said.

Colombian law allows all victims of sexual and domestic violence to seek justice and receive free medical care.

But the report, based on 80 interviews with displaced women and girls in four major Colombian cities, found big gaps remain between theory and practice.

“Despite good laws and policies that have been enacted in recent years, they still face enormous difficulty in getting the medical attention they’re entitled to. And they rarely see their abusers brought to justice,” Klasing said.

Some health workers lack “basic knowledge” about handling rape and domestic violence cases and said they received little training on how to deal with displaced victims, the report found.

It also cited cases of displaced women and girls being denied or experiencing delays in receiving medical care after incidents of domestic or sexual violence, and examples of medical facilities failing to screen for signs of abuse.

The government says it is stepping up efforts to tackle gender-based violence. Earlier this year, Colombian lawmakers drafted a new bill, which if passed, would make conflict-related sexual violence a specific criminal offence.

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