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Too many men, too few women: Refugees tip Europe's gender balance

Durga M Sengupta | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:47 IST

The total population of Mauritius is smaller than the number of refugees Europe has seen cross its borders in 2015. That's 1.3 million people who fled their countries to make it to Europe alone. And most displaced people in this world haven't made it that far.

Especially not the women.

According to the latest Pew report, only 27% female refugees have made it to countries in Europe over the past year. And while the exact ratio differs across various age groups, the gender disparity doesn't reverse.

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While the largest percentage of refugees crossing over are young adult males in the 18 to 34 age bracket (42%), the largest percentage of females, young adults, only make up 11% of Europe's total refugee population.

Where have all the women gone?

Apart from the obvious discomfort that news of women not being able to flee oppressive and dangerous circumstances brings, there's also the problem of math.

When the Pew report counts refugees, it leaves out those who have moved in the past and immigrants who move in for reasons other than asylum. The disparity could potentially be a lot higher if those people are counted.

While there's no evidence to back this claim, with one look at the population that has streamed into Europe last year, we learn that the problem is reflective of social conditions. And if society is what ensures women get left behind, then the chances of them making it to European countries for occupational reasons are slimmer.

The pattern differed in the case of countries like Russia, Serbia and Ukraine

For instance, the immigrants who came from countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh - countries where the condition of women is backward - last year comprised almost entirely of men. Over three-quarters of immigrants who moved from these countries were men aged 18 to 34. Similar patterns were observed in the case of war-torn countries like Syria, Iraq, Iran and Somalia.

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While one could brush this off as a matter of 'survival of the fittest', the Pew report further states that the pattern differed in the case of countries like Russia, Serbia and Ukraine. Asylum seekers from these countries were more likely to move with their entire families. In fact, 30% to 50% of these immigrants were minors who crossed borders with adult companions.

And this is a problem because?

Well, simply put, gender imbalance is never good news. But what's even more worrying is the sheer extent of this imbalance. Of the total number of refugees who migrated to Europe last year, women are outnumbered by men almost two to one.

This means that unless the host countries have populations where women outnumber men significantly - and this is obviously not the case - the gender imbalance among the refugees can tip affect the gender balance in these host countries. That's problem number one.

Historically, it's unusual for completely divergent ethnicities and cultures to mingle

Historically, as much as we'd like to believe otherwise, it's unusual for completely divergent ethnicities and cultures to mingle. In the present scenario, this is bound to be even more pronounced given how the refugee crisis has been handled. This means that the host and refugee populations will not have a stabilising effect on each other. That's problem number two.

Problem three is that refugees are already under a lot of duress. They've lost their homes, their families, all sense of security, and, with all of this, social interaction becomes even harder. By not having partners or families, their social isolation may increase, possibly resulting in conflict.

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The solutions are problems too

Europe's has a chance at fixing this if they bar men from crossing their borders. The only hypothetical alternative would be to send for more women or more frequently grant women asylum.

While solution two seems less problematic, it is also less realistic. The reason why there are less women immigrants isn't because they are granted asylum less; it's because they don't seek asylum to begin with. Because most of them can't leave their homes, let alone borders.

Most of them can't leave their homes, let alone borders

As for solution one, it'd be inhumane. If the host countries are letting refugees in on humanitarian grounds, it would be completely counter-intuitive to refuse shelter on the basis of gender.

Also read -You never really stop being a refugee: Sulaiman AddoniaThe influx of young, male refugees, as the pattern suggests, will therefore continue. As ato result of this, at the very least, the gender balance of European populations will be further strained. A good move for these countries, would be to work harder on integrating refugees into society through whatever means necessary.

Perhaps deliberate efforts at inter-mingling divergent populations is the only way forward. Both as a means to sustain the population as well as to maintain a peaceful, plural, socially conscious society.

First published: 15 August 2016, 6:37 IST
Durga M Sengupta @the_bongrel

Feminist and culturally displaced, Durga tries her best to live up to her overpowering name. She speaks four languages, by default, and has an unhealthy love for cheesy foods. Assistant Editor at Catch, Durga hopes to bring in a focus on gender politics and the role in plays in all our interactions.