Women, Camps, And “Bare Life”

Authored by: Ayesha Anne Nibbe

The Routledge Handbook of Gender and Development

Print publication date:  February  2015
Online publication date:  February  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415829083
eBook ISBN: 9780203383117
Adobe ISBN: 9781134094714


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The problem of forcible displacement due to war, natural disaster, or other crisis is a rising problem around the world. The humanitarian aid community, spearheaded by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), offers protection and services to millions of displaced people in camps and elsewhere in more than 125 countries. 1 In 2012, 45.2 million persons in the world were forcibly displaced and uprooted by humanitarian crisis—a 7.6 million person increase from 2011. 2 A subsection of this group of both refugees and IDPs lives in camps that are located all about the world, and up to four-fifths of those displaced people in camps are women and children. This chapter is an investigation into the gendered implications of the interplay between camps, humanitarian aid organizations, and internally displaced persons in the context of conflict in northern Uganda. 3 First, this chapter will define the terms “refugee” and “IDP,” and draw a picture of the diversity of camps around the world. Next, I will outline the general discourse about camps and women in the academic and practitioner literature. The literature suggests that women are seen as a specialized subgroup of displaced persons that are “forgotten” and therefore particularly vulnerable and in need of special attention in camps. In reality, women are in no way a specialized or forgotten subgroup within camps. While roughly half of refugees around the world are female, women and children make up an overwhelming majority of the population of camps worldwide. Why are camps so full of women? The case of northern Uganda suggests that social, political, and economic dynamics in camps has the effect of “leveling the playing field” between men and women, and often raises the social status of women in comparison to men in camps. This chapter does not make the claim that camps are beneficial for women’s empowerment, but rather that camps create strange and unique sociospatial conditions that women seem to be better equipped to navigate and exploit to their relative advantage vis-à-vis men.

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