Hidden Struggles: Empowering Women in Refugee Camps

Women in Ugandan refugee camps face compounded hardships, including restricted access to vital services and heightened risks of early pregnancies and gender-based violence. PHOTO Via Isaac Kasamani/ AFP

What you need to know:

  • Women in Ugandan refugee camps face compounded hardships, including restricted access to vital services and heightened risks of early pregnancies and gender-based violence. Urgent action is needed to improve healthcare, education, and economic opportunities for women, supported by collaborative efforts from governmental and non-governmental organizations.”

In the current global crisis, Uganda stands as a beacon of hope, known for its warm hospitality. It has become a safe haven for people escaping problems in their own countries. Uganda, hosting the largest number of refugees in Africa, takes in over 1.5 million people. Amid the celebration of Uganda’s kindness, 52% of Uganda’s refugee population comprises women, who are silently facing tough battles and are at the forefront of the violence and hardships within these refugee camps. In these turbulent times, the refugee journey gets even more complicated. For women who not only suffer the pain of being displaced but also endure the everyday struggle to survive, navigating through a maze of difficulties is their reality.

Kyaka II, a refugee settlement in Kyegegwa District that is home to more than 120,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, and other countries, poses a constant challenge, especially for women who face compounded hardships. Their access to crucial services like healthcare, education, and economic opportunities is restricted, making them particularly vulnerable. Within this challenging environment, the silent struggles of women often reveal themselves through distressing rates of early pregnancies among young girls, leading to an increased risk of complications during pregnancy and childbirth, resulting in the death of many young girls during labor. Young girls are also affected by emotional and psychological effects like depression caused by early pregnancies, as they are unable to cope with the responsibilities of parenthood at a young age.

This situation arises from a mix of problems such as limited access to school and disrupted learning, lack of sufficient health information, the stress of being displaced, cultural norms that prioritize boys’ education over girls, and increased violence making the girls more vulnerable. Women in these refugee camps also suffer from gender-based violence. According to Chantal Mukeshimana, a resident of Kyaka II refugee settlement, “Unequal power relations between genders combined with insufficient resources make different families fight often because there is not enough food and there is not enough land. When this happens, women and children are often the ones who suffer, and when resources are not enough, men react by abusing women.”

The government needs to focus on health services and education by improving healthcare in the camps, providing good medical facilities, and deploying skilled professionals to assist women with their health needs. Simultaneously, efforts should be directed towards enhancing schools for young girls in the camps, enabling them to receive a quality education and break free from poverty. There is also a need to implement programs that teach vocational skills such as carpentry, hairdressing, and tailoring to help women start businesses that generate income. This not only aids them financially but also boosts their self-esteem, reducing the emotional stress of displacement. Programs to prevent violence, discrimination, and mistreatment should be implemented, with a primary focus on involving men and boys in discussions about treating everyone equally.

While the OPM (Office of the Prime Minister) and UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) are putting in commendable efforts to support refugees, there is a collective acknowledgment that additional endeavors are essential to ensure the provision of the best possible assistance to those in need. Building upon existing initiatives, it becomes crucial to foster collaboration with other organizations, both governmental and non-governmental, to pool resources and expertise. This collaborative approach can amplify the impact of ongoing efforts, addressing the diverse needs of refugees more broadly.

Moreover, increasing public awareness and involvement can generate additional support and resources for refugees. By mobilizing a broader network of support, we can collectively strive towards creating a stronger and more sustainable framework that goes beyond immediate aid, aiming for the long-term well-being and empowerment of the refugee community.


Ms. Caroline Kinkuhaire is an Advocacy Officer at Citizens’ Concern Africa. For inquiries or further information, you can contact Ms. Kinkuhaire by email: carolinekinkuhaire12@gmail.com or 0784364001. Learn more about the advocacy work at Citizens’ Concern Africa.

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