The threat of sexual violence is the number one fear for women and girls caught up in the Central African Republic crisis, the International Rescue Committee said today, as it released findings of an emergency assessment it just conducted in the nation’s capital, Bangui. Among a group of 125 women it is aiding, the IRC also said, more than two thirds had been gang raped.

Sarah Terlouw, the IRC’s country director in CAR, said, “The severity of violence women and girls are experiencing is shocking. Yet as communities are being torn apart, women and girls are not only bearing the brunt of this conflict, they are also largely responsible for keeping their families together and providing stability in an environment that is increasingly chaotic.” 

The IRC found women and girls, who cited the presence of armed men in some displacement sites, were particularly fearful of an increased risk of rape when collecting firewood or using toilets without locks. The assessment also found women and girls in Bangui felt threatened by the general violence and rising levels of domestic violence.

The IRC is one of the lead aid agencies providing services, including counselling and medical referrals, to women and girl survivors of violence in CAR. Since opening two women’s centres at the beginning of the year in Bangui, the IRC has helped 125 women recover from violence, including 10 girls, with the youngest only seven years old. Of those, 70 per cent had survived gang rape and 84 per cent had been raped.

Despite recent commitments from governments, UN agencies and NGOs to prioritise protecting women and girls from violence, current efforts in CAR are underfunded, with less than 30 per cent of internally displaced population sites in Bangui receiving direct services for survivors of gender based violence.  

While the decision has been made to improve the security in CAR by deploying around 1,000 EU troops, overall funding for humanitarian aid is also failing to meet the needs of the population. Only 28 per cent of the $207 million pledged at a donor conference in January has been committed or spent and only 13 per cent of the United Nations’ $551 million response plan is funded.

Sarah Terlouw said: “Governments must fulfil their commitments to the Central African Republic and fund efforts to protect women and girls in this crisis. Addressing violence faced by women and girls is life-saving and can’t be relegated to a secondary concern.”

The situation in CAR is desperate. Over half of the population is in need of immediate food or medical assistance. There are currently 714,000 people displaced inside the country with 272,000 living in 64 displacement sites in Bangui, typically mosques, church compounds and abandoned schools. 

The IRC has provided emergency food support to more than 10,000 people and distributed water containers and soap to 40,000 people in Bangui. In addition to opening the two women’s centres the IRC has responded to the needs of vulnerable women and girls in the capital by distributing 7,000 emergency kits of clothing, sanitary items, soap and security items such as torches as well as deploying a team of social workers to provide support and information on services.

The IRC has remained in CAR throughout 2013 and during the current crisis to provide lifesaving services. In Bocaranga in the north east, the IRC is providing emergency support to 15,000 people and in the northern town of Kaga-Bandoro the IRC is providing food to thousands of displaced people.