Women on the Move - Forgotten, Neglected, Abandoned


More than half of the 108 million people on the move are categorized as women. Women are particularly vulnerable in an environment of flight and migration. The real danger of sexualized and gender-based violence is omnipresent - whether in the country of origin, on the run or in Europe. Even though binding provisions, such as the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention, provide for comprehensive protection, this is nowhere to be found in reality.
Drying Clothes in Refugee Camp - Anonymous - 2020
Drying Clothes in Refugee Camp - Anonymous - 2020. Our Visual Policy

March 8 is a day to raise public awareness of discrimination and violence against women[1]. The figures for violence against women remain high - an estimated one third of all women in Europe are affected. However, this does not take into account women who are on the move within the EU, have no residence status or are undocumented for other reasons. According to estimates by human rights organizations, the number of unreported cases is particularly high for these women. Regardless of existing legal provisions, the reality at the EU’s external borders is dramatic, especially for people in need of special protection: Inhumane living conditions, overcrowded camps and the mass detention of people on the move ignore special protection needs and are at the same time a breeding ground for violence - especially against women.

Protection only on paper

The Istanbul Convention, which has now also been binding for the entire EU since June 2023, calls for comprehensive protection for women against domestic violence. The comprehensive preventive and protective measures are binding for all women, regardless of their origin, nationality or residence status. At the same time, the EU agreed on a Directive to combat violence against women and domestic violence at the beginning of February this year. Despite considerable gaps, this is to be welcomed in principle, but the lack of options for the right to legal residence and existing reporting obligations of agencies to the respective immigration authorities make effective access to protection for women on the move impossible.

Women in particular, who already have a special need for protection due to their experiences in their country of origin and during their flight, are thus not covered by the protection measures provided for by law.

  “As a result, residence regulations are given a higher priority than the protection of women from violence. This makes it clear that sexualized and gender-based violence, which is classified as one of the most serious human rights violations, is still not recognized as such in state practice”, says Anne Pertsch, Equal Rights Beyond Borders.  

Women at the EU’s external borders are forgotten and left to themselves

At the external border, there is no access to protection in the camp and no mechanisms or procedures to ensure this or to receive support in case of violence. Equal Rights Beyond Borders represents survivors of torture and gender-based violence in Greece who are locked up with men, forced to shower with unlocked doors and denied medical treatment after assaults. The lack of shelters, shared sanitary facilities, unlockable rooms and general overcrowding, as well as the lack of sensitized security personnel and social workers in the camp, lead to considerable insecurity, danger and abuse.

  “Women on the move do not find protection at the EU’s external borders, but rather the inhumane accommodation and degrading treatment not only denies them the access they need to protection and support measures, but also creates a breeding ground for violence”, says Ioanna Pavlou, Equal Rights Beyond Borders.  

Reality must be brought into line with legal standards

In order to take the protection of women and access to support services seriously and guarantee them comprehensively, it is therefore necessary to fully guarantee the rights provided for in the Istanbul Convention. This must be done both legally by adapting the EU Directive and, in particular, in practice within the EU and at the EU's external borders - and for all those affected, regardless of their origin, nationality or residence status. The reform of the Common European Asylum System is unlikely to bring about any improvement. People in need of protection will also end up in detention camps at the external border and disappear first from sight, then from mind and memory – when no one thinks of them.

[1] We include all persons who classify themselves under this term and call for an extension of the legal framework to include intersex, agender and non-binary persons.