Data Protection Challenges for Refugee Women in Africa

Data Protection Challenges for Refugee Women in Africa


In today’s interconnected world, data holds significant importance as a critical asset globally. In Africa, navigating processing of personal data and privacy poses distinctive challenges, especially for vulnerable groups like refugee women.1 Personal data refers to information recorded in any format that enables the identification of an individual.2 This includes details such as nationality, age, marital status, educational background, occupation, identification numbers, and any other particulars assigned to a person.3 Additionally, personal data encompasses identity information and any other relevant information that is held or likely to be held by a data controller and data processor including opinions expressed about the individual.4 Sensitive data includes a natural person’s race, health status, ethnic social origin, conscience, belief, genetic data, biometric data, property details, marital status, family details and gender.5

Africa’s approach to data protection varies significantly across member states.6 One common feature of data protection laws is the prohibition on processing sensitive data except under specific circumstances. There are concerns about potential misuse and accountability of personal data. For example, there may be gaps in enforcement mechanisms or challenges in holding organizations accountable for data breaches or violations of privacy rights. Additionally, there may be differences in interpretation and implementation of data protection laws across different jurisdictions, leading to inconsistencies and uncertainties for businesses and individuals operating in multiple countries.7

One of the key challenges in Africa’s data protection landscape is the delicate balance between security and privacy. On one hand, there is a growing recognition of the importance of safeguarding personal data to protect individuals’ privacy rights. On the other hand, there is a need to ensure that data can be effectively used for legitimate purposes.8

Statistics indicate that women and girls make up around 51% of all refugees globally, with top countries of origin including the Sudan, Central Africa Republic, Somalia and Burundi.9 As per the statistics of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, there were 7.4 million refugees and asylum seekers across Africa, once again with women and girls making up the majority of these migrants at a staggering 50.4% of the total refugee population.10

This article explores the current state of data protection in Africa, with a specific focus on the plight of refugee women in Chad, Cameroon, and Ethiopia. It examines the existing challenges and explores potential solutions.

Considerations in Data Collection for Refugee Women

The current challenges in collecting personal data from refugees underscores the need for considerations, particularly regarding informed consent and the protection of vulnerable groups such as refugee women.11 The difficulty in obtaining informed consent results from language barriers and power dynamics within refugee communities, concerns about data security and privacy, risks of data misuse, gender-specific vulnerabilities, inadequate legal frameworks, and limited access to information and rights awareness.12 These challenges highlight the need for more comprehensive policies and practices to safeguard individuals’ rights and dignity, especially those most marginalized in society.13 In this context, this article highlights the challenges refugee women face regarding data protection.

Data Protection Challenges for Refugee Women in Chad, Cameroon, and Ethiopia

Chad as a case study

Articles 17 and 49 of the Chad Constitution safeguards the right to privacy.14 In line with this constitutional guarantee, Chad enacted Law No. 007/PR/2015 on the Protection of Personal Data.15 This law aims to regulate the collection, processing, transmission, storage and dissemination of personal data within the Republic of Chad. Furthermore, Chad established the National Agency for Computer Security and Electronic Certification as the data protection authority through Law No. 006/PR/2015, which became fully operational in 2020.16 Article 38 of the Law No. 007/PR/2015 grants every natural person the right to access their personal data, request corrections or deletion of their data, and object to the processing of their personal information with valid reasons.17

The status of refugees in Chad is critical with over 1.1 million refugees, making it Africa’s largest host per capita.18 The recent civil war in Sudan, which began in April 2023, has led to a significant influx of refugees into Chad, primarily from Darfur.19 This demographic composition exposes them to increased vulnerability which extends to data protection concerns, as the personal information of these Chadian women may be at risk of unauthorized access or misuse.

Considering that women and children constitute 90% of the refugees,20 with a majority of them crossing over from Sudan, there is a need to address data protection for refugee women in Chad.21 Ensuring the privacy and security of their personal information is essential for their safety and well-being. Despite the existence of data protection laws in Chad, there is a pressing need to implement adequate measures, particularly addressing the protection of refugees, ensuring they are informed about their rights and protections under the various laws of Chad.22

Refugee women face challenges in understanding the purposes and implications of data collection processes, especially if they have limited access to information or if language barriers exist. Obtaining informed consent becomes a challenge when refugees are not fully aware of how their personal data will be used or shared. Without informed consent, there is a risk of collecting inaccurate or incomplete information. This can be addressed by ensuring that refugees receive comprehensive information about the purposes and potential implications of data processing. Balancing this with the need for registration and refugee status determinations involves implementing transparent procedures, providing clear explanations, and offering opportunities for refugees to ask questions and express concerns before consenting to data collection.

Refugee women often need help with digital literacy, hindering their ability to navigate data protection mechanisms. A lack of awareness stemming from this hinders them from understanding the essence of safeguarding their personal information in the now digital era.23 Consequently, they remain oblivious to the potential risks associated with the indiscriminate sharing of sensitive data, inadvertently exposing themselves to privacy breaches. This significant lack of information further increases their vulnerability, especially in an era where essential services and communication rely heavily on digital channels.24

Cameroon as a case study

In Cameroon, data protection governance is sector specific covering areas such as criminal procedure, copyright, banking secrecy, electronic communications, cybersecurity, and electronic commerce.25 These regulations cover various aspects such as the collection and use of personal data. Despite lacking a comprehensive framework, these laws collectively aim to safeguard privacy rights and regulate data processing. Additionally, Cameroon has taken steps to draft a Privacy Bill, although ratification of the signed Malabo Convention remains pending.26

Cameroon currently hosts one million internally displaced persons (IDPs), 460,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, and 466,000 IDP returnees.27 The refugee landscape in Cameroon is characterized by a significant presence of Central African Republic (CAR) and Nigerian refugees.28 The 332,000 CAR refugees predominantly reside in towns and villages in Cameroon’s eastern façade, while around 120,000 Nigerian refugees are concentrated in the Far North Region. Disturbingly, 52% of these refugees are women and girls, and a staggering 55% are children, underscoring the vulnerability of these demographic groups. 29

Refugee women, living in crowded camps or urban areas in Cameroon, face privacy and security challenges when accessing essential services like healthcare, where personal data such as age, marital status, and sex are required.30

This state of life presents further obstacles for them, such as the access of essential services. For instance, the limited recognition of UNHCR ID cards restricts their ability to apply for jobs or enroll in universities.31 Vulnerability to exploitation increases due to inadequate protection of personal data, placing them at risk of abuse.32 Additionally, the digital divide prevents them from understanding their data protection rights effectively.33 Refugee women in Cameroon face challenges that necessitate specific attention in discussions surrounding data protection. Recognizing these vulnerabilities in the context of data protection is crucial. Doing so ensures their rights are safeguarded and mitigates any potential exploitation within the refugee community.

Ethiopia as a case study

In Ethiopia, the right to privacy is constitutionally guaranteed to everyone under Article 26 of the Ethiopian Constitution.34 Besides this constitutional provision, the country has been in the process of formulating comprehensive data protection legislation for over a decade. For instance, in 2009, a draft comprehensive data protection law was circulated, and more recently, in 2020, the Draft Data Protection Proclamation was published.35

Ethiopia hosts a total of 892,555 refugees, with 50.39% of them being girls and women.36The majority of these refugees originate from South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, and Sudan.37 While Ethiopia’s commendable role as a host country is recognized, it highlights the responsibility to address the specific needs of data protection for its refugee population, particularly women.38 The absence of comprehensive data protection laws raises privacy concerns among refugee women.

Insufficient access to secure technology compounds the challenges faced by refugee women, as refugees often find themselves in areas without access to advanced technologies like secure messaging apps or protected databases.39 This lack of technology not only makes it tough for refugee women to safely store and share information, it also puts them at greater risk of privacy violations and identity theft.40

Without adequate safeguards, sensitive data like personal IDs and documents are vulnerable to unauthorized access, leading to potential exploitation. Furthermore, refugee women struggle with the absence of safe and reliable technology, making it harder to connect with others and organizations for help.41 This limitation reduces their ability to access information, advocate for their rights, or seek assistance, hindering their integration and rebuilding efforts. The status of refugees in Ethiopia, particularly refugee women, requires comprehensive attention and targeted solutions.

While commendable strides have been made in providing humanitarian aid, the emphasis must shift towards empowering refugees to build sustainable livelihoods. Integrating market-led initiatives, coupled with a robust data protection framework, can pave the way for resilient communities and contribute to the long-term success of refugee women.

Charting the way forward

Helping refugee women navigate the obstacles of data protection demands a comprehensive approach that tackles the underlying factors driving their vulnerability. This means utilizing the resources available and collaborating with partners to offer unwavering support throughout their journey.

Firstly, to ensure the safety of refugee women in the digital world, tailored digital literacy programs are crucial. These programs should focus on teaching foundational digital skills, informing women about data protection risks, and educating them on safe online practices. By providing refugee women with the knowledge and skills to navigate the digital landscape securely, they are better equipped to safeguard their personal information and reduce the chances of exploitation.

Secondly, it is further crucial to prioritize efforts aimed at enhancing access to safe and reliable technology. This entails advocating for initiatives that offer refugee communities affordable access to essential devices like smartphones and laptops, alongside reliable internet connectivity. Collaborative partnerships involving governments, humanitarian organizations, and private sector entities can play a pivotal role in expanding infrastructure and minimizing obstacles to technology access. Furthermore, promoting the utilization of secure communication tools and platforms is vital to bolstering the digital safety of refugee women, empowering them to communicate and access information securely.

Finally, there is also a need for stronger regulation and oversight to protect refugee women’s data from exploitation by aid organizations. Clear data governance frameworks and policies should be established to ensure transparency, accountability, and consent in the collection, storage, and use of personal data. For instance, countries without comprehensive data protection laws like Cameroon and Ethiopia should prioritize the development and implementation of stout legislative frameworks that safeguard the privacy and rights of refugee women.

Ethiopia, despite its constitutional guarantee of the right to privacy, has been in the process of formulating comprehensive data protection legislation for over a decade. Therefore, prioritizing the enactment and enforcement of robust data protection laws and regulations is crucial to safeguarding the privacy and rights of refugee women in the country.


To support refugee women in safeguarding their data, a comprehensive approach is essential. This approach should recognize the challenges refugee women face, encourage collaboration, education, and accountability within humanitarian organizations, and prioritize digital literacy, access to technology, and legal protections.

The image source is

1 Dragana Kaurin, ‘Space and imagination: rethinking refugees’ digital access,” (2020) UNHCR Innovation Service, <> accessed 12 March 2024.

2 Tony Ke and K. Sudhir, “Privacy rights and data security: GDPR and personal data markets,” Management Science 69, no. 8 (2023): 4389-4412.

3 Ibid.

4 Data Protection Act 2019, s 2.

5 Data Protection Act 2019, s 2.

6 Mercy King’ori, ‘RECs: Towards a Continental Approach to Data Protection in Africa’ (2024) <FINAL | Africa RECs Report (>accessed 11 March 2024.

7 Alex LaCasse, ‘Report examines state of African nations’ data protection laws, implementation efforts,’ IAPP <> (2024) accessed 8 March 2024.

8 Migration Data Portal, ‘Gender and Migration’ <> accessed on 8 March 2024.

9 OHCHR. Status of Women’s Rights in Refugee and Internal Displacement Settings in Africa: The Context of AGA and APSA. <–status-women-africa-EN.pdf > Accessed 19 March 202

10 Migration Data Portal ‘Gender and Migration’ <> accessed on 8 March 2024.

11 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) <> accessed 4 March 2024.

12 UN Women, ‘Infographic: Status of Women’s Rights in Refugee and Internal Displacement Settings in Africa’ (UN Women Africa) <—status-of-womens-rights-in-refugee-and-internal-displacement-setting-in-africa-fr> accessed 4 March 2024.

13 Chad’s Constitution 2018.

14 Act No. 007/PR/2015 on the Protection of Personal Data 2015.

15 Act No. 006/PR/2015 on the creation of the National Agency for Computer Security and Electronic Certification 2015.

16 Act No. 007/PR/2015 on the Protection of Personal Data 2015.

17 Beatrice Alupo Atim, et al. ‘Psychological experiences of refugees and the response of the community in the Lake Chad region’ (2019) Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression 215-231.

18 Ibid.

19 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) < UNHCR: Chad fears ‘very real’ prospect of more Sudanese refugee arrivals, needs support | UNHCR> accessed 19 March 2024.

20 HIAS. ‘Sudanese Refugees in Chad.’ (2023). < > Accessed 19 March 2024.

21 RAMARDE Nedoumbaiel, “Protection of Personal Data in Chad” (2021) 2(12) International Journal of Science Academic Research 3301-3309. Available at: <> accessed 9 March 2024.

22 UNHCR. “Digital gender equality.” (November, 2023).

23 Ibid.

24 Danielle Moukouri, ‘Cameroon – Data Protection Overview’ <Cameroon – Data Protection Overview | Guidance Note | DataGuidance> accessed 13 March 2024.

25 Lex Africa, “Data Protection Overview in Cameroon” <> accessed on 4 March 2024.

26 Ayuk Nkwa Pascal and Wase Sidonie Oyemi ‘The Fate of Refugees in Cameroon: A Legal Perspective’ (2023) Commonwealth Law Review Journal 108-129.

27 Kelly A. Yotebieng Jennifer L. Syvertsen, and Paschal Kum Awah ‘Cessation clauses, uncertain futures and wellbeing among Rwandan urban refugees in Cameroon’ (2019) Journal of Refugee Studies 436-455.

28 Ibid.

29 Olajumoke Yacob-Haliso ‘Intersectionality and durable solutions for refugee women in Africa’ (2016) Journal of Peacebuilding & Development 53-67.

30 Frankline Sehngwi Mofow, ‘The Policy of Local Integration: Cameroon Government and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee: The case of Central African Republic Refugees in Cameroon from 2014-2021’ (2023).

31 Ibid.

32 Raiyan Kabir and Jeni Klugman ‘Unlocking Refugee Women’s Potential’ (2019).

33 Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, 1995.

34 Kinfe Yilma. “Comment: On Ethiopia’s Digital ID Bill, Data Privacy, Warts and All’ (2022) Mizan Law Review 16.2, 455-466.

35 Accion. ‘Opportunities to enhance the livelihoods of refugee women in Ethiopia’ (2023)> accessed 12 March 2024.

36 Ibid.

37 Ibid.

38 Ibid.

39 Migration Data Portal ‘Migration and data protection’ (June, 2022) <> accessed 12 March 2024.

40 Ibid.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked