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Changing gender norms in displacement: Venezuelans in Bogotá, Cúcuta and Pasto, Colombia

Working paper

Written by Kerrie Holloway, Megan Daigle, Alexander Alegría Lozada, Rocío Murad

Image credit:Hannah Bass Image license:CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Venezuela plunged into recession in 2015, resulting in a mass out-migration of six million people, with many settling in neighbouring Colombia. How migration and displacement have affected the gender norms, roles and power relations of those on the move has been little researched and left largely unaddressed in the humanitarian response.

Some of these changes – such as women taking on more paid work, household chores being shared more equitably and families choosing to have fewer children – have pragmatic roots, grounded as much in the recession as in the displacement. Other changes, such as how gender-based violence (GBV) is addressed or how Venezuelans feel about expressing their sexuality or using contraception, are a more direct consequence of losing their familial and social networks in Venezuela, which protected some from GBV but endangered others whose families did not agree with their diverse sexual orientations, gender identities/expressions and sex characteristics (SOGIESC). Whether the changes in roles and responsibilities will result in more permanent gender norm change remains to be seen.

While these changes are occurring across the Venezuelan population in Colombia, the humanitarian system continues to hold conventional understandings of gender, focusing on women while largely ignoring people with diverse SOGIESC and men, and without understanding the diversity of women and their intersectional experiences. Gender has been included as a cross-cutting priority in the Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan for several years, but whether and to what extent the dynamics around shifting gender norms are being considered in the response is less clear. Gender programming remains dominated by protection concerns, particularly around GBV, and sexual health concerns, such as contraception. Other issues, such as livelihoods, are much less likely to be seen through a gender lens that does not resort to stereotypes of gendered work.