- Burkina Faso
- Cape Verde
- Central African Republic
- D.R. Congo
- Equatorial Guinea
- Guinea Bissau
- Ivory Coast
- São Tomé and Príncipe
- Sierra Leone
- South Africa
- South Sudan
Wednesday, March 09, 2016
Africa has been described as a continent of despair, war, failed states just to mention a few. It’s a continent where leaders overstay in power. It’s a continent where corruption is rampant. Ask the men in the streets and everyone will offer their own thoughts on what’s possibly Africa’s problem. What Is Africa’s problem? Poverty! Poverty is built into the current economic system. Africa is corrupt because it’s poor. Africa’s social services are dysfunctional because of poverty. Africa has weak institutions because of poverty.
The worst drought to hit southern Africa in decades has left millions of people in a state of severe food insecurity. For women in the region's refugee camps, the desperate need to feed themselves and their children has left many forced to sell the only commodity they have left to trade – their body. The Dzaleka refugee camp, around 26 miles north of Malawi's capital Lilongwe, is home to almost 25,000 people who have fled war and natural disaster elsewhere in the region, in June 2015 a lack of funds led the World Food Programme to cut food rations at the camp in half.
In 2009, Liziuzayani Kachingwe, 23, arrived in Malawi with her baby son after seeing all 11 of her siblings killed during conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Kachingwe was forced to beg, borrow, and barter whatever she could to provide for herself and her son. Like many female refugees, this meant engaging in "transactional sex" — also known as "survival sex" — to acquire the goods she needed to keep the pair alive. "Any man that came with money I would accept just to feed my child.”
Another refugee forced into survival sex at Dzaleka is Jetta Botende, 27. Botende says she is forced into transactional sex because she cannot survive on her monthly food allowance. "I got 23 kilograms of maize at the monthly distributions. But this was only enough to last for three weeks," she said.
Aid agencies said the cut in rations that has driven so many women into survival sex was a result of a shortage of United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) funds for Malawi, combined with the country being hit by the effects of a devastating drought seen across the region in 2015 — effects exacerbated by the severity of the El Niño effect last year. In January, the UNHCR warned refugees had been receiving just 40 percent of their recommended minimum daily calories over the previous six months, leaving many on the brink of malnutrition. According to Plan International, an NGO which operates at Dzaleka, a lack of food was one of the main drivers of survival sex and gender-based violence in the camp. Food rations were restored last month after a successful funding drive by the UNHCR, but they will run out again in June unless more funding is obtained.
According to Muriel Ilungwa, an aid worker for Plan International, the effect of restoring rations was almost instant. "When the food rations returned to normal we saw a drop in cases of gender-based violence and transactional sex," she pointed out. In southern Africa the lack of aid money is seriously exacerbating the sexual exploitation and violence against women.
Survival sex is common in refugee camps around the world, and is known to be used by female refugees and migrants to secure services such as transport from human smugglers. The UNHCR voiced its concerned about "credible testimonies" of sexual violence and abuse against female refugees and migrants moving through Europe. In many such cases, the line between survival sex and rape remains blurred. "From testimony and reports we have received there have been instances of children engaging in survival sex to pay smugglers to continue their journey, either because they have run out money, or because they have been robbed," UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming told a news conference. 80 percent of Syrian refugees in Lebanon are women and children, who are highly vulnerable to violence and sexual exploitation in the underfunded camps. Incidences of sexual exploitation have also been reported among women in the Calais refugee camp.
Despite humanitarian organizations warning the region's drought is even more serious than that which famously devastated the region in 1984, it remains relatively out of the public consciousness in the West, which is more focused on Europe's migrant crisis and humanitarian crises in Syria and Yemen. Meanwhile countries such as Zimbabwe and Malawi warn that millions face starvation unless urgent action is taken by the international community. According to the WFP, $38 million is needed to deal with the crisis in Malawi alone. And as long as that funding it not forthcoming, the thousands living in Dzaleka will continue to suffer, with UNHCR representative for Malawi Monique Ekoko saying it is women who often bear the brunt. It's hard being a woman in this world but it's harsher in these regions where rule of law is absent.
"We have really had difficulties coming up with funding for the refugees," Ekoko told VICE News. "When there's no food to eat, a hungry man is an angry man."