Leaving means I will be undocumented – The impact of SBGV on refugee women
Sixteen days will never be enough for the fundamental structural and societal shifts required to ensure women are safe. There has been an apologetic narrative that has emerged these 16 days of Activism. This narrative seems to come from inertia in women being unable to imagine a world where they will be safe as the pervasiveness of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) continues, and little seems to be done.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, levels of SBGV have increased, with the most recent statistics released in November 2021, which revealed a 31.7% increase in child murders and an increase in the rape and murder of women. As we enter the fourth wave, we cannot disguise the colliding pandemic of violence on woman’s bodies. Women should not have to be apologising for the unabating violence and abuse perpetrated against them as a strategy to be seen as human and accepted in society. We all have to recognise our contribution and participation in preventing and advocating against SGBV.
Refugee and asylum seeker women face a compounding risk in situations of intimate partner violence. Many refugee and asylum seeker women are linked to their partners’ asylum claims and refugee documents. Since the COVID-19 national lockdown, the Department of Home Affairs Refugee Reception Offices have temporarily closed their in-person services. This includes family joining and separation services, placing women who are victims of intimate partner violence at particular risk.
Women and children who are joined as dependents to their partners’ files who are victims of SGBV face the unimaginable decision to stay in an abusive situation or be undocumented. This decision has been compounded by the increased economic precarity of many families due to the national lockdown. Financial dependence and the inability to support children are additional reasons why victims and survivors of SGBV may choose to stay in an abusive situation. A choice no one should have to make.
No person wants to be undocumented. This only heightens someone’s risk of exploitation, detention and possible deportation, a contradiction to the very reason for which people migrate or are forcibly displaced.
In thinking of practical ways to prevent SGBV, we must interrogate the structure and policies that perpetuate violence and limit women’s choice for safety for themselves and their children.