Cash assistance helps LGBTQIA+ survivors of domestic violence

Fleeing rampant crime and political violence, a collapsing economy and severe food and medicine shortages, some 1.5 million Venezuelans have arrived in Ecuador since 2016. Among them are LGBTQIA+ people, who make face many risks, including domestic violence (IPV). An analysis conducted by CARE among 782 migrants and refugees in Ecuador in 2019 found that 50% of those who experienced discrimination and xenophobia, which are associated with increased exposure to gender-based violence (GBV), were people LGBTQIA+.

For LGBTQIA+ refugees in Ecuador, violence is constant and perpetrated by the state, law enforcement and even service providers. A study by the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) found that LGBTQIA+ survivors of GBV who experience stigma from service provider staff are deterred from seeking help when they need it most and may waive the assistance to which they are entitled in order to avoid exposing themselves to this discrimination.

Domestic violence is also widespread, although survivors are even less likely to access services for violence suffered at the hands of partners or other family members. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation worse as people are stuck at home with abusers, and social distancing keeps survivors away from support systems.

Intervention services for IPV survivors are limited and insufficient for both Venezuelans and Ecuadorians. For LGBTQIA+ people, including LGTBQIA+ refugees, the situation is particularly difficult. They face many barriers to accessing services, including stigma. So far, they have been completely left behind when it comes to accessing cash and voucher assistance (CVA) to help them recover from incidents of domestic violence.

WRC, CARE and Mujer & Mujer, along with two other local organizations, are working to change that. This is essential, as cash transfers, which are increasingly used in humanitarian contexts, can enable rapid response to meet urgent needs in safety. It can help IPV survivors cover costs associated with fleeing an abusive relationship, such as rent, transportation, food, medical care, and clothing.

Through the IPV Learning and Research Enhancement for Humanitarian Assistance (Elrha) Award, our organizations are piloting the integration of CVA into GBV programs to support displaced and Ecuadorian survivors of IPV, including LGBTQIA+ people.

In the absence of strong government services, this innovative project works with local civil society organizations. Rather than creating parallel programs for refugees, we expand the capacities of existing providers, improving access to services for displaced populations and marginalized groups such as LGBTQIA+ people.

The project encountered several challenges along the way. The local organization we initially partnered with to implement the project struggled to support lesbian women experiencing domestic violence. He felt this went against his mandate to protect women’s rights, because in a same-sex relationship, “both the abuser and the survivor are women.” Additionally, its staff were not open to LGBTQIA+ inclusion training.

Subsequently, the project was adjusted so that cis women and LGBTQIA+ survivors of IPV were received by separate organizations formed to meet their needs. A target was set that at least 10% of the targeted 150 IPV survivors to be supported by the project should be LGBTQIA+ people; however, LGBTQIA+ survivors were reluctant to disclose IPV due to stigma. And it was particularly difficult to reach displaced LGBTQIA+ people.

The implementation of the project has just been completed. Between February and December 2021, the program supported 150 displaced and host survivors with cash assistance, of whom 48% were migrants and refugees, and six identified as LGBTQIA+.

What have we learned from this project?

  • It is essential that organizations with LGBTQIA+ expertise are involved as partners from the start. Partnering with LGBTQIA+ organizations helps ensure that programs are comprehensive, accessible and safe for the host community and LGBTQIA+ refugees.
  • The inclusion of activities that facilitate collective action among participants, including Venezuelan and Ecuadorian women, was an important component of the program to help build networks of survivors, which supports their resilience.
  • When case managers accompanied survivors to get their money, it helped them feel safe.
  • Social workers should discuss survivors’ recovery goals and the goods and services they need, as survivors know best how cash transfers can best enhance their protection.
  • Establishing strong networks among civil society actors helped professionals respond appropriately to cases disclosed by survivors, including facilitating referrals to services provided by others.
  • Building the confidence of refugees and LGBTQIA+ people in the host community to overcome stigma and disclose incidents of GBV in a safe and ethical environment was essential for them to choose to access services.

Going forward, we will take what we have learned and advocate for the adoption of similar programs at local, national, regional and global levels. IPV survivors deserve nothing less, whether they are displaced or not, and regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. And it can mean the difference between life and death.

*The *Strengthening the IPV response for migrants and refugees through cash and voucher assistance* is funded and supported by Elrha’s Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF) program, a grantmaking mechanism that improves outcomes for people affected by humanitarian crises by identifying, developing and sharing solutions more efficient, innovative and scalable. Elrha HIF is funded by aid from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Elrha is a global charity that finds solutions to complex humanitarian issues through research and innovation. Visit www.elrha.org to know more.*

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