Stunning to see the tweet above, which the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees sent to the 1.4 million persons who follow its Twitter feed yesterday. The quote appears to speak to the horror of sexual assault – but not a horror on which we would have expected the UNHCR to focus. Instead of physical harm, psychological trauma, or violation of personal dignity and autonomy, the tweet speaks of loss of “reputation,” as some fragile thing that never can be restored. To reinforce such an outdated stigma, and in so doing to remain silent about other harms, appalls.
One thought on “UN enforcing bad old stereotypes?”
It’s unfortunate that this excerpt was tweeted by itself, as the context really disappears. It’s actually a quote by the mother of refugee girls explaining why she feels it necessary to prevent them from leaving the house. It’s from the Chapter “Stuck Indoors” which deals with how patriarchal attitudes, along with rising threats of gender-based violence, are eroding the right of refugee girls to freedom of movement. This chapter’s purpose was to highlight the deprivation in children’s lives that results from such forced seclusion, not to legitimise the sentiment of the quote—which is indeed deeply troubling and problematic. But from the tweet alone, this important context is not there. Please take a moment to read the passage that precedes the quote from the mother:
“STUCK INDOORS: In the words of Abdel-Menhen, a Syrian refugee and outreach volunteer in southern Lebanon, some Syrian children “feel like they are in prison.” Due to safety concerns, their need to do family chores and a lack of knowledge about available activities, many rarely leave the house and do not play with friends as frequently as they did in Syria. During field research across Jordan and Lebanon, 106 children were asked how often they left home; 29 per cent said once a week or less. Seven children left less than once a month.
Isolation, loneliness and boredom were raised as particular problems among girls. Noor, 13, spent a month in Za’atari camp with her mother and father and four siblings. They did not interact with anyone else outside the family. Her father was concerned for his daughters’ safety to the point where he didn’t allow them to leave the tent. He did not even want people to know that any girls were living there. He set up a bucket inside the tent as a toilet, so they would never have to leave. Noor and her elder sister would amuse themselves by playing with rocks.
Even parents who had not heard of specific security incidents against girls said that they felt wary about letting their daughters leave the house in a strange country. Hiba, a single mother with eight children aged eight months to 14 years, lives in a caravan in King Abdullah Park in Jordan. Although she is not aware of any kind of harassment, she worries about her two daughters’ safety. She does not let them out alone. She explained: ‘A girl’s reputation is like a cup. Once it’s broken, there’s no putting it back together’.”