NASSAU, BAHAMAS – There is a heightened risk of gender-based violence (GBV) at Hurricane Dorian shelters in New Providence, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), which expressed concerns over the upcoming relief site.
The IFRC noted risks were “particularly pronounced” in the main shelter at the Sir Kendall GL Isaacs Gymnasium, “where notably people are sleeping in an open space”.
The risk assessment was submitted as part of the worldwide humanitarian aid organization’s emergency plan of action for Dorian, which was updated November 6.
“There is no space for separate households, there is overcrowding, lack of privacy, and there is no separation of males from females with women and girls sleeping in the same space as strangers,” the report read.
“There are concerns over the ability of women and girls to safely access toilets and bathing facilities, particularly during the night, and of residents being locked in during the night, creating the potential for a number of risks to the safety and dignity.
The report continued: “There is a single health desk, however this is located in the open, very close to the main in the sleeping area.
“This means that there is no privacy for consultations.”
The IFRC further noted the government does not require child protection checks for volunteers operating in The Bahamas.
“This increases the risk to affected children who have regular interaction with multiple organisations during times of disaster,” it added.
Following its original appeal, launched September 2, the IFRC has staged two deployments of Protection, Gender and Inclusion (PGI) specialists to the country.
Those assessments identified a number of urgent PGI issues, including concerns over the situation of undocumented Haitian migrants, the report stated.
According to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) Mass Care and Shelter Services Summary Report, dated November 1, there were 761 Dorian evacuees staying in the Kendal G.L. Issacs Gymnasium, three surrounding tents, and the Bahamas Academy Gymnasium.
Noting studies have shown increased risks of gender-based violence following disasters, the IFRC said the true extent of violence against women in the Bahamas prior to Hurricane Dorian is unclear.
“There are inconsistent data standards, and under reporting of GBV and child protection matters is common,” the report read.
“According to the UN’s Special Rapporteur on violence against women, gender-based violence is “hidden, denied and… accepted as normal” in the Bahamas.
“The National Task Force for Gender-Based Violence noted in 2015 that three of the top ten recorded rape rates in the world occur in the Caribbean. This is led by The Bahamas.”
It continued: “Migrant women may be at particular risk of GBV, as noted by UN’s Special Rapporteur on violence against women, ‘Many migrant women and women of Haitian descent live in poor and densely populated shanty towns, where they are confronted with an array of challenges, including discrimination on the grounds of gender and ethnic origin. In addition to the discrimination they face, many do not have identity documents and national passports, which hampers their ability to obtain a job or a house.
“Their low socioeconomic status and social exclusion exposes them to multiple and intersecting forms of violence, including domestic violence. It is likely that migrant women who are victims of gender-based violence decline to call the police for assistance, for fear of possible deportation’.”
The IFRC stated collective shelters set up post-Dorian did not follow Sphere Standards, the most commonly used and most widely known set of humanitarian guidelines, and expressed concerns over the upcoming relief site in Abaco.
“This relief centre is expected to be open for 24 months,” the report continued.
“It is unclear whether this relief site will be built to Sphere Standards. The Department of Social Services along with the government policy makers are going to determine the protocols for the persons who go into the family relief centre in Abaco.”
It continued: “It is understood that there are currently no schools located near the proposed site of family relief centre. It is also anticipated that construction workers, who are primarily males, will be living amongst the affected population, creating a potential gender imbalance amongst residents.
“This could increase risks of GBV if not managed properly.
The report added: “Opportunities to advocate around lessons learnt from other humanitarian actions in setting up longer term shelter sites is timely, this includes advocating on rankings based on vulnerability, and on ensuring that the relief site meets international standards.”
The IFRC noted the humanitarian community, under the leadership of the International Organization for Migration, has put forward a joint proposal outlining available support for shelter management.
“Access to official data on the affected population post Dorian, including sex, age and disability disaggregated data, remains a barrier to providing targeted responses to populations most in need.
“ In the absence of this data, various pre-Dorian secondary data sources can be used to better understand the demographic profile of the affected population.
It added: “IFRC and BRC programming activities, have started to collect demographic data insofar as is possible. It is critical that ongoing analysis of this data occurs and that programming is regularly adjusted to ensure programming is inclusive and responsive to the needs of the most vulnerable population.”
The Bahamas Red Cross is currently in the process of implementing a new Child Protection policy, and has formed a partnership with Department of Social Services and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to train staff in GBV for non GBV specialist, which will strengthen capacity in responding to disclosures, confidentiality and informed consent, according to the report.