Thailand: Gender-based violence among displaced people
31 May 2023|Regional Communications Officer
Do you know?
Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is one of the reasons people flee their home country. Gender-based violence can also occur during and after conflicts which includes sexual, physical, mental and economic harm inflicted in public or in private. It has been observed that the humanitarian crisis often exacerbates sexual violence.
“There are many layers of the issue.”
Jasmeen and Supawadee, the Psychosocial Counselors at JRS Thailand, agreed that SGBV could be caused by various socioeconomic factors. From their experience, harmful power relations and abusive authorities are part of the cultures that normalize patriarchy and the sexual objectification of women. “The higher role of man in society is accepted since they were very young.” Supawadee added. This social system has been encouraged by parents or even husbands. “In some cultures, girls will be sold to other men when they enter menarche. Sometimes survivors are not even aware that this is sexual abuse until they left their community for other countries. In conflict, sexual violence is also seen as a form of intimidation, to instill fear and humiliation as a weapon of war e.g. being raped by soldiers.
Economic struggle and poverty are also the drivers of SGBV. “Patriarchal tradition could lead to domestic violence when women cannot fulfill the family’s need. Due to the unequal power structure of the majority male population, women tend to be under pressure and experience SGBV.”
“The most concern is that SGBV survivors sometimes were not able to recognize or identify that they were being abused, exploited and oppressed. Some reluctant to disclose they are survivors of SGBV.” This exacerbates the risk and vulnerability of this group to first-line support/psychological first aid.
Not only women experience SGBV.
“Not only women experience SGBV, even male and LGBTI.”
According to the World Health Organization 2013, it is estimated that one in three or 35% of women worldwide experiences physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime by an intimate partner or non-partner. Women and girls are most often the victims of SGBV. Studies on male survivors are scarce, but several reports have found that a significant number of men and boys are also subjected to SGBV. Some of the groups most at-risk of abuse and exploitation are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, children, and adolescents as well as persons with disabilities.
Refugees are especially prone to SGBV
“There are many reports that show violence happened while asylum seekers were traveling or living in transition.”
Displacement also leads to heightened socioeconomic vulnerability, frequently aggravated by national laws that violate their rights to access basic needs. Many countries do not allow refugees and asylum seekers to access the formal labor market and legally earn a living. Poverty is undeniable a cause of SGBV among displaced communities while they are in transition. Many of them cannot find a safe shelter and work in the informal sectors, which leaves them at risk of violence and exploitation by employers. They are prone to be persuaded to work in the commercial sexual industries.
SGBV causes mental health impacts.
“Interventions are made available for healing and recovery”
SGBV can cause many serious physical and psychological health consequences. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the most common form of SGBV impact on survivors. They may experience many forms of mental health conditions such as anxiety, fear, insomnia, nightmare, flashback, depression, suicidal thoughts and attempts. Every survivor reacts to traumatic events in their own ways.
Many rape survivors develop guilt, shame and self-blaming from past experiences “I am dirty”, “It’s because I was born as a woman”, and even “I should not be at home that day”. Some survivors face stigma and rejection from their own community members and family. Unfair treatment or prejudice from the community and family may also prevent people from seeking help.
We can prevent SGBV.
“Gender norms and unequal power relations are the underlying causes of SGBV.” – UNHCR
Jasmeen and Supawadee said they believe in prevention. They identify a gap that we can prevent SGBV which is raising awareness. “We found that people, especially displaced populations, lack awareness of SGBV. We have an activity called ‘Community Outreach’ that we visited displaced people in Thailand. We include SGBV as an area to raise awareness among community members. We understand and respect cultural differences, however addressing this issue is needed. In some cultures, violence is normalized and accepted. We strongly believe that it is crucial to address cultural and social norms that normalize violence.
“Displaced SGBV survivors are suffering in silence.”
Jasmeen and Supawadee have provided psychosocial support for 7 women, 1 LGBTI, and 2 female unaccompanied minors who are displaced and also experienced SGBV in their home countries, or during the transitioning period in Thailand. “JRS provides mental health counseling through emotional care and support as they have been exposed to traumatic events, we have to build trust by ensuring that there is a safe space for them and protection is always available here.”
“SGBV survivors may experience feeling of hopelessness and worthlessness. We support survivors by empowering, rebuilding self-esteem and restoring sense of control as part of healing” said Jasmeen.
Protection is also considered a gap in response to SGBV. While they have been serving urban refugees and asylum seekers in Thailand, they found it’s difficult to address and help SGBV victims to access on-going and effective assistance. SGBV survivors, including LGBTI, have demanded JRS to help raise their voices to the most authorized refugee agency. JRS Thailand and partner organizations are still working on it but there is no response so far. Supawadee explained “Some organizations are helping the victims who are Thai nationals, but we are now advocating for displaced SGBV survivors who are suffering in silence. Some of them are still hiding from perpetrators without any protection.”