The Economics of Displacement: A Study of the Changing Gender Roles, Relations and it's Impact on the Livelihood and Empowerment of Women Refugees in Kenyan Camps
Opata, Grephas P.
Singo, Stephen M.
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The phenomenon of the world's refugees and internally displaced persons is among the most complicated issues facing the international community today. The situation in Africa is particularly grave. Despite some positive developments in the protection of refugees over the past few years which have resulted in thousands of refugees returning home, the continent continues to face a major crisis. Africa carries the largest proportion of refugees and has since the 1980s hosted some of the longest standing refugee populations in the world. Of the world's estimated 20 million refugees, more than 30 % are found in Africa, and more than 75% of these are women and children. Over half of these African refugees are found in Eastern and Central Africa, a region that hosts more than one quarter of the total refugee population in Africa. Kenya currently hosts an estimated 235,000 refugees. In Kenya, programmes of assistance to refugees have concentrated mainly on emergency and relief supplies in camps. Refugees in the camps have been forced to settle on marginal, harsh, inadequately-serviced sites. In many instances they survive in conditions of squalor often worse than the situations from which they fled. The most affected are women, who are forced by circumstances to take on new roles but without access to the requisite resources. Apart from displacement, they also face numerous hurdles and problems. Given the above scenario, there is need for solutions to the refugee problem which are conceived within a framework that encompasses a shift from emergency response towards self-reliance and one that respects the abilities and rights of women. Such an approach would help refugees, particularly women, in the rehabilitation and reconstruction of their lives. It is against this background that this research project has been conceived. This study sought to generate data that would be essential in understanding the economics of displacement and the changing gender roles and relations and their impacts on the empowerment and livelihood of women refugees. The study also examined resource-related and gender-based violence, the entrepreneurial skills and coping mechanisms of women refugees, and explored ways in which women can become catalysts of the improvement of economic activities within refugee settlement area. It also examined the possible lasting solutions to the refugee problem. Turning to Africa, we observe that women have occupied a central role in the economy being the main producers and suppliers of welfare services. Likewise in commerce and trade, African women have always demonstrated entrepreneurial skills, yet women in asylum no longer have access to resources to enable them carry out these functions despite the heavy responsibilities that they are expected to bear. Despite constituting a majority of most refugee populations, women and girls do not always feature in proposed solutions. A combination of lack of information and popular assumptions that what suits men also suits women have resulted in the establishment of programmes and projects without due regard to differing gender requirements. Hence, the questions we may ask are: What happens to women in asylum? How does displacement impact their roles? What hurdles do they encounter as they adjust to the new roles? What coping mechanisms do they employ to overcome them? What is the main source of their livelihood? How sustainable are they? What economic activities do they engage in? What opportunities are available for them to improve, nurture and acquire new skills? A critical analysis of the above questions would go a long way in countering the disadvantages women refugees face. The study aims to highlight key issues regarding refugee livelihood, changing gender roles, relations and their impact on empowerment of refugee women, causes of gender based violence in the camps, entrepreneurial initiatives of refugees and make recommendations towards proper management of refugees in general and women refugees in particular. Field surveys were conducted in both Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps. Kakuma refugee camp is situated in Kakuma division, Turkana District, North Rift region of Kenya. Dadaab camp is situated in Dadaab division, Garisa District, North Eastern Province of Kenya. Both camps are situated in the semi-arid parts of the country and they were set up by the government of Kenya in conjunction with UNHCR in the early 1990s. Several categories of respondents for the study were identified and sampled, including refugees, UNHCR officials, and officials from UNHCR partner agencies. Government and church officials were also sampled and interviewed where necessary.