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Why Women Flee

Conflict and displacement are deeply intertwined, disrupting the lives of millions worldwide. 


War and violence force people from their homes, creating asylum seekers, refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs). You can learn more about the difference between these groups of people over on our blog (click here). 

While women are not necessarily more likely to be displaced in terms of sheer numbers compared to men, there are some specific, gendered reasons why women may make the impossible choice to flee:  

  • Gender Roles and Responsibilities 

    • Women's primary caregiving responsibilities for children, the elderly and other family members can make it more difficult for them to flee quickly and increase their likelihood of being displaced in severe crisis when their homes become unsafe. 
  • Gender-Based Violence 

    • Conflict increases the risk of gender-based violence, prompting women and their families to flee their homes out of fear. 
  • Discrimination and Inequality 

    • Women have less access to resources, education and economic opportunities, limiting their ability to cope with and recover from the impacts of conflict. 
  • Targeting of Women and Girls 

    • In some conflicts, women and girls are specifically targeted for violence and persecution as a tactic of war, contributing to higher displacement rates among them. 
  • Disruption of Social Networks 

    • Women rely heavily on social networks for support. Conflict can disrupt these networks, making it harder for women to find safety and assistance locally, thus pushing them to flee. 
Solange DRC
Solange is a graduate of our Stronger Women, Stronger Nations program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. For reasons of security and privacy, we are using a photo of a different Women for Women International graduate to represent the woman in the story.

Solange is a graduate of our Stronger Women, Stronger Nations program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. For reasons of security and privacy, we are using a photo of a different Women for Women International graduate to represent the woman in the story. 

One of the women we have served in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Solange, shared her story with us. Internally displaced within her home country, Solange says that after surviving numerous experiences of sexual violence and horrendous loss, she fled. Solange has rebuilt her life in her new home, equipped with knowledge, skills and resources gained in our Stronger Women, Stronger Nations program. Now, she encourages other women survivors of war and rape to take steps forward in their lives.  

Please note: Solange's story contains graphic mentions of rape and sexual violence. Please do not read her story if you are likely to find this triggering.  


Risks Facing Displaced Women 

Women uprooted from their homes face increased vulnerabilities, whether they are within their countries or across international borders 

While conflict affects everyone, the experiences of women during displacement are distinct and often more severe due to gender-specific vulnerabilities and societal roles. Here are some of the interconnected ways displacement impacts women: 

1. Increased Levels of Gender-Based Violence: 

1 in 5 refugee women experience sexual violence (UNHCR).  

Refugee women often live in crowded, insecure settings like camps or urban slums, lacking privacy and protection, which increases the risk of sexual violence. Financial insecurity can also force women into exploitative situations and displacement disrupts community and family networks that typically offer support, leaving women more exposed to abuse. 

Dependency on aid can also put them at risk from those who are supposed to protect them, including aid workers and peacekeepers, some of whom have been implicated in sexual exploitation and abuse.  

2. Financial Instability: 

When people flee - and especially when they flee quickly, as women are so often forced to do - they may have to leave significant assets behind. If a country is in crisis, it also may be difficult for women to access their finances. And, in addition, moving from place to place can be very costly, especially when people are forced to pay smugglers inordinate amounts to find safety. 

When women then look to rebuild, many have lost their livelihoods. For many displaced women who have lived in places gripped by restricted gender norms, they may have had their education limited and this could be the first time they are looking to earn an income.  

3. Caregiving responsibilities: 

Conflict often separates families. Women may become the sole caregivers for their children and elderly relatives, increasing their burdens and vulnerabilities 

Ukraine war
Алесь Усцінаў is photographing the devastation inflicted on Ukraine by Russian forces.

Nastasiya is one of the women we have supported in Poland, after she fled there from Ukraine. She shared how her home, Mariupol, was reduced to rubble, too insafe to stay with her children. WIth her husband in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, she had to leave with her children, alone.  

Read about her journey, support she found from our partners on the other side and her hopes for the future.  

Please note: Nastasiya is not her real name. She has shared her story under a pseudonym to protect her safety.  


4. Health Risks: 

Displaced people may incur accidental injuries, unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases due to gender-based violence, dehydration and inadequate nutrition. Diseases also spread rapidly in cramped living spaces, like refugee camps, and mental stress is high. 

Women may also face limited access to reproductive healthcare, prenatal and postnatal services, and general medical care, resulting in higher maternal and infant mortality rates. 

5. Psychosocial Stress: 

The trauma of conflict and displacement can have severe psychological impacts. Women may experience anxiety, depression and PTSD, which is then compounded by their roles as primary caregivers, financial insecurity, poor physical health and so on. 

You just had this horrible experience, you lost your home and you don’t know how you stay alive. …You lost your relatives, husband, friends or colleagues and you’re faced with all these tasks, all these problems. This is very difficult. 

Kateryna Shukh, Vice President of Bereginia - Mariupol’s Women’s Association 

Meet Kateryna

In Ukraine and Poland, we are working with local partner organizations to reach women who have been displaced since the war began in February 2021. 

Kateryna Shukh, Vice President of one of our partner organizations, Bereginia - Mariupol Women's Association, is a psychologist. She fled Ukraine when the war began and now works with other refugees in Poland offering psychological support, including trauma-informed counselling, art therapy, safe spaces for women to gather and connect, and gender-based violence counselling and prevention. Together, our partnership is also providing legal counsel, vocational training and language support in Poland.  

6. Legal and Social Challenges: 

Many host countries do not provide adequate legal protection or access to justice, making refugee women easy targets for predators. Women often face additional discrimination in accessing legal protection, property rights and citizenship. In some cultures, their legal status is tied to male family members, complicating their ability to secure rights and assistance independently.

Country Spotlight: Iraq 

Iraq family
Eman, a graduate of our program in Iraq, with her son at their home. They joined our program in Erbil, Iraq, after leaving their home in Syria. Photo: Emily Kinskey

Serving displaced and refugee women 

Following the destabilization of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria's (ISIS) control in Iraq and Syria, Iraq faces a displacement crisis. 

Iraqi civilians displaced by ISIS and refugees escaping the war in Syria contribute to the country’s number of men, women and children forced to leave their homes. Women for Women International has served women survivors of war in Iraq since 2003, supporting Iraqi, Kurdish, Syrian and Yezidi women.  


smiling displaced woman and family in KRI
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