AN ALYSIS OF THE CHALLENGES AND COPING STRATEGIES OF INTERNALLY DISPLACED WOMEN IN THE BUEA MUNICIPALITY
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The phenomenon of internal displacement has become a topical issue in recent times and is caused by a whole lot of factors among which are; conflict and violence, natural disasters (earthquakes, floods etc.), persecution, militancy etc. this situation comes up with a whole lot of challenges for the displaced persons. The situation is even worse for women who due to gender inequality are extremely vulnerable in displaced situations.
The main objective of the study was to analyse the challenges and coping strategies of internally displaced women in the Buea Municipality. The sample size of this study was 100 (specifically IDP women above 18 years of age) and the respondents were sampled purposively. The questionnaire and interview guide were instruments for data collection. Data was analysed qualitatively and quantitatively using frequency distribution tables and statistical package for social sciences (SPSS).
Making use of the People Oriented Planning framework and the Capacities and Vulnerabilities analysis framework, the findings show that, internal displacement is a problem that has brought about several challenges to women such as; poverty, hunger, low standards of living, frustration, joblessness, school dropout, health complications, low income and household consumption, over population in host communities, increase crime wave, destruction of infrastructure and heavy workload on women because of their gender role. Internal Displacement has also heightened gender issues like male domination and subordination, discrimination and inequality. As coping strategies, IDP women in the Buea Municipality tend to source support from family, engage in farming and other social activities, and receive aid from governmental and non-governmental organisations.
The study thus recommends; sensitising the entire public on the challenges of internal displacement and the engendering of IDP policies to alleviate the challenges of both women and men. The study also recommends that IDPs be granted scholarships, jobs, allowances, training centres, education and health facilities to help them address the challenges that come with the IDP status. Special efforts should be made to reduce the rate of gender inequality which is usually excercibated during crisis situations.
1.1 Background to the Study
Every day, people flee conflict and disasters and become displaced inside their own countries. The phenomenon for internal displacement has always existed and has become a subject of significant concern for the international community since the end of the 1980s (Ajayi, 2020). Almost all continents of the world are faced with various kinds of conflict that the resultant effect is displacement of persons from their habitual homes (The United Nations Humanitarian Commission on Refugees 2007).
According the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of the Internally Displaced Persons (2009), Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights, natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized state border.
Phuong (2005) stated that, for historical, political and legal reasons, it has been judged inappropriate not to include internally displaced persons in the refugee definition contained in the 1951 convention. The refugee convention (1951), defines a refugee as a person due to well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or owing to such fear is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country, is unwilling to return to it. The convention further states that, internally displaced people have been more or less excluded from the system of international legal protection, even though they are often displaced in exactly the same way, and for exactly the same reasons as refugees.
According to the United Nations Human Rights Commission for Refugees (UNHCR, 2019), IDPs may suffer systematic violations of their human rights, conflict, ethnic or religious oppression, but remain within the borders of their own country and have no institutional or legal mechanism for receiving international assistance, they remain under the jurisdiction, and responsibility, of their governments while refugees are eligible for international protection and assistance under the mandate of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees(UNHCR, 2019). Notwithstanding, the system responsible for upholding the rights of IDPs may also be the system responsible for their displacement and the violations against their rights.
The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC, 2020), posits that, conflict, violence, disasters, climate change and other factors force millions of people to flee their homes each year. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC, 2015) internal displacement in the Central African Republic (CAR) has been driven over decades by coups, internal armed conflict, generalized violence, human rights violations and natural hazards. IDMC (2020) further added that, heavy rains cause flooding and the destruction of homes and farmland in CAR every year. In 2014, at least 1,500 people had lost their homes in Bangassou, Bozoum, and Bangui by the end of the rainy season.
Olawale (2001), noted that, in Nigeria, the Northern region especially the North-East and North-Central are the most affected in this violent conflict, and with several people displaced from their homes, and sheltered in relations homes, or in friends homes, or in internally displaced camps. The Displacement Database (2015) reiterated that, the rains and floods also affect people already displaced by conflict and violence and living in displacement sites, damaging their temporary shelters and pushing some to return home earlier than they had intended, and despite continuing insecurity. According to IDMC (2020, p.7), more than 41 million people worldwide were living in internal displacement at the end of 2018 as a result of conflict and violence alone. More than half, or nearly 21 million, were women and girls. There were at least 2.6 million internally displaced girls under five, 4.6 million between five and 14, 3.9 million between 15 and 24, 7.9 million between 25 and 59, and 1.7 million women over 60.
Notwithstanding, Albert (2001) posits that, anywhere IDPs find shelter, they are faced with various kinds of challenges ranging from inadequate food, shelter or healthcare facilities, with cases of malaria, traumatized situation, lack of proper security in camps, and various kinds of abuses of women and children as they are the most populated and vulnerable. Those who find shelter in homes of friends or relations’ constitute burden on their host.
Vicente, (2020) notes that living conditions and experience of IDPs seems to be very traumatizing as what seemed to be hope for a better future has quickly turned into a nightmare for people who have been forced into displacement and exile and who are still living in precarious conditions in displacement camps or in informal urban areas, knowing little but war.
Pursuant to the above mentioned challenges, women and girls experience displacement differently from men and boys, and face specific challenges that must be better understood to provide them with the support they need (UNHCR, 2017).Women often face greater challenges than men in securing a decent livelihood in displacement, with repercussions on their ability to find shelter and security and to access education and healthcare. They also tend to be less able to make their voices heard or participate in decisions on matters that affect them. They are often more likely to flee in the face of conflict, violence, disasters and climate change, and are therefore at greater risk of displacement (IDMC, 2020).
Furthermore, UNHCR (2019) notes that, though displacement has a challenging outcome for those affected irrespective of the sex and age, displaced women and girls tend to be at greater risk of deprivation, insecurity, abuse, neglect and a general deterioration of their wellbeing. Their sex and age also often impede them from making their voices heard or participating in decisions on matters that affect them. UNHCR, (2019) added that, the rights of women, including access to basic services such as food, water, shelter, and health care are often ignored. Moreover, displaced women have no voice; their circumstances compel them to accept the little assistance offered while being denied the opportunity to actively participate in program design, monitoring, or assessments on activities that directly affect their children’s lives.
The risk of GBV in displacement sites is heightened by the dire living conditions of IDPs and the presence of armed men. Destitution has also forced displaced girls and young women to resort to survival sex, in some cases resulting in underage or unwanted pregnancies (NRC, 2015). IDMC (2020) also posits that, displacement also leads to girls’ low school attendance rates and may constrain their mothers’ ability to engage in work because they have to stay at home to care for them. Women’s lack of opportunity to establish a decent livelihood will intend make them less able to afford to send their children to school.
In the CAR, displaced women face a number of challenges in exercising their Housing, Land and Property (HLP) rights because of discriminatory practices (NRC, 2015). A study undertaken by the NRC at the end of 2014 revealed that women were at risk of eviction from their homes. That is, after the death of their husband or partner, the family of the deceased often asks women to leave their homes. NRC, (2015) reiterated that, this practice was observed across the country as a whole, but appeared most common in non-Muslim communities. As such, displaced women who have lost or been separated from their partner or husband may find that return to their places or origin becomes impossible, creating additional obstacles to their pursuit of durable solutions.
Internally displaced persons situation in Cameroon
Sitting at the cross roads of West and Central Africa, Cameroon is one of the most diverse and resource-rich countries in Africa and has prided itself for decades as a beacon of stability in a conflict prone region (Institute for Peace and Security Studies, 2020). Conversely, in recent decades according to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) 2020, Cameroon has witnessed growing political and social instability, fuelled by multiple crises which include the secessionist crisis shaking the two English speaking regions of Cameroon, the Boko Haram insurgency, the influx of refugee from Central African Republic. Also electoral violence and post-election dispute following the 2018 presidential election, the rise of hatred among political party supporters, the radicalization of young people has increased the growing spirit of rebellion and resistance in young people which has led to instability.
The Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS,2020) states that, the Anglophone crisis and terrorist insecurity in the Far North are currently the Cameroon’s most challenging conflicts with implications for national and regional stability. Meanwhile, the UNHCR, (2019) noted that, after Nigeria, Cameroon is the second largest victim of Boko Haram’s attacks. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (2019) noted that, given the rising instability in the South West and North West Region, displacements, violations of human rights and children’s rights, family and community dislocation, have become normalized in the daily lives Cameroonian’s.
The most frequently reported security incidents include displacements, destruction of homes and other domestic properties, continued fighting and a heavy military presence, extortion, torture and thus many of the IDPs in and from the South West and North West Regions are living in overcrowded conditions, without dignified shelter, and with basic hygiene and domestic times (UNHCR, 2019). The crisis in the Northwest and Southwest regions has also given rise to hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons in Cameroon.
Furthermore, Tanushree (2020) argued that, Cameroon now has the world’s sixth-largest internally displaced population with over half a million people living in highly precarious and insecure conditions which lack basic provisions for subsistence such as food, water and protection. Additionally, recent figures on the exposure of civilians to these crises remain very alarming. According to the humanitarian report provided by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) in January 2020, approximately 969 723 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Cameroon, 354 320 returnees. According to UNICEF, only 100 schools of 6,000 remain open, the other 5,900 have been closed down (WILPF, 2020, p.2).
In Cameroon, the displaced, most of whom are women and children, face a grave humanitarian situation. Having fled with very little, their presence in host communities is straining food resources and already limited health, education, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) facilities in these areas (OCHA, 2019). It has been estimated that there are 1.3 million Cameroonians currently in urgent need for humanitarian aid and assistance in the English-speaking regions. Among those that are internally displaced, approximately 68% are women, who are now living in extremely vulnerable conditions Tanushree (2020, p.9). These IDPs are faced with a lot of challenges in their host communities.
UNHCR (2019) reports that generally IDPs experience many challenges among which are; protection from incidence of rape, sexual assault and sexual exploitation, commonly reported mostly by women in the 18-59 years-of-age bracket, unaccompanied and separated children, people with disabilities, lactating and pregnant women. In 2018, UNHCR identified 1700 protection incidents of child abuse, denial of rights to property, Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV), and violations relating to freedom of movement among IDPs (UNHCR, 2019). Women experience greater challenges as IDPs due to their sex. OCHA (2018) noted that, reports from 2018 have “insisted on the real risk of survival sex and an increase in prostitution amongst displaced women and girls, given their vulnerability and the difficult living conditions they face”.
Generally, violent conflict puts people in precarious situations where livelihoods are lost and means of survival become a struggle especially after being displaced (Maxwell, et al 2017). How people cope or find ways to confront these challenges varies depending on the dynamics of their experiences. Ajayi (2020) argued that, women being the most susceptible to difficult conditions during conflicts are mostly presented as victims, weak, and in need of being protected. Hence, the non-accountability of their contributions to how they cope and survive during the conflict creates an evasion of their agency, concerns and needs in policies and conflict transformation processes (Ajayi, 2020).
However, women’s experiences of violent conflict go beyond these ideologies which spurs the need to research on the different ways women confront the challenges of the conflict and how they position themselves within the context of this insurgency (Krause 2019). Moreover, some studies have attempted to bring to fore the relevance of understanding the coping strategies of women during violent conflict. Seguin et al. (2016) explore that, problem solving (in the form of seeking employment and using financial resources carefully) and support seeking behaviours emerged as the most-commonly used copping strategies employ by IDP women in the republic of Georgia.
In another context, Rostami (2003) explored women’s experiences within the context of the Afghanistan war and how women resorted to building networks and secret organizations to cope. With respect to the ongoing Anglophone crisis in Cameroon. Some internally displaced women were reportedly forced into taking traditional male jobs, such as working as security guards. On the other hand, other women have had to engage in transactional sex as a coping mechanism for supporting the household. For example, many girls have been forced to move from one bar to the other selling groundnuts due to school closure.
As it was described by an informant from Bamenda (North-West region), “if you see one of the girls selling groundnuts and want to have sex with her, just call her and promise to buy all her groundnuts for sex, she will not refuse. I am a living witness to what I am saying” (Catholic Relief Services 2018).However, recording the experiences of women in displacement, taking into account how violent conflicts affects them and the ways they cope psychologically, economically and socially builds a holistic notion of making women’s voices heard and helps in addressing the aftermath of such encounters for a more sustainable transformational measure (Buvinic, Gupta et al. 2013).
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is the first international framework to acknowledge that internal displacement is a development as well as a humanitarian concern. Its goals will not be achieved by 2030 unless the phenomenon as a whole and the plight of displaced women and girls in particular receive greater attention. This includes ensuring they are able to achieve durable solutions to their displacement, through investments and interventions that focus on gender equality from humanitarian and development stakeholders alike (IDMC, 2020).