The Central Mediterranean Sea is considered the deadliest migration route.

Women represent only a small proportion - around five per cent - of those who make the dangerous journey from Libya to Italy.

But just by being born a woman, they already face additional burdens of gender discrimination and, all too often, gender-based violence, along their routes.

Survivors have shared their testimonies of the circumstances that led them to cross the central Mediterranean to Médecins Sans Frontiers (MSF).

"They said that if I had sex with them, they could take me [across the sea] without payment." Linda, 19 years old, from Guinea Conakry.

The Geo Barents is a ship chartered by MSF

MSF has been running search and rescue activities in the central Mediterranean since 2015.

In May 2021 it chartered its own ship the Geo Barents. To date the team on board this ship has rescued 6,194 people, recovered the bodies of 11 people, and assisted in the delivery of one baby.

To coincide with International Women's Day, MSF's Tales of Women at Sea aims to amplify the voices of women rescued.

Female survivors on the Geo Barents regularly disclose practices such as forced marriage or genital mutilation (affecting either themselves or their daughters) as being among the reasons they were forced to leave their homes.

Many women rescued also report having experienced various forms of violence, including psychological and sexual violence and forced prostitution.

Among these women is Decrichelle, who fled a forced marriage to a violent husband with her baby.

They left their home country of Nigeria and went via Niger to Algeria.

When they arrived in the desert, Decrichelle’s daughter fell ill, and she could not do anything to treat her because she had no access to care or medicine.

The young girl died, and Decrichelle had to leave her behind before continuing the journey to Algeria. She described it as "an immense and inconsolable sadness" for her.

Decrichelle attempted to cross the sea once but was arrested and sent to prison, where she was released immediately, only to be taken by taxi to a brothel. Some Cameroonian friends helped her escape.

A woman braids the hair of her friend with whom she made the journey from Libya

For six months, she lived in the campos (the abandoned buildings or large outdoor spaces near the sea where traffickers gather migrants) before scraping together the money to pay her way for another crossing.

"I want to be in a place where I can live like a normal person of my age. I want to be able to sleep at night," she said. "I wanted to be here with my child. It hurts me to think that I am safe, and I left her in the desert."

To date the team on the Geo Barents has rescued 6,194 people, recovered the bodies of 11 people, and assisted in the delivery of one baby

Another woman, Bintou, a mother of four children, decided to leave because after the death of her husband, her in-laws decided to take her children away from her to force her older daughter to marry.

She then took her two oldest daughters and left before it was too late, leaving a girl and a boy behind. When they entered Libya, they were arrested and put in prison.

"In Libya, because there is no government, everyone is a policeman. Even when they catch you, you do not know who the real police is ... They caught us and put us in a small hut, men, women, all together. It was very hard. Young boys broke the door and we ran away."

"When I got out of prison, I started working at a man's house. The man did not pay them. He knew they wanted to leave. One day, he took them to a boat, so they could sail away. It was their first time," she said.

'I have to be brave for my children' says Bintou

Bintou has not seen her other two children in two years, since she left Ivory Coast.

"Tomorrow, I want my children to be somebody. When I was a child, I experienced a lot of bad things. My mother was blind. She had 15 children but only three of them survived. I was the only girl. I was married by force. I did not go to school. I want to send my children to school. I do not want my children to be married by force like me. I do not want my girls to have the same life."

When violence started in Sudan, Sarah told MSF she had no choice but to flee to Sudan to survive. When the bombings began, she was working in the outskirts of her town.

"I witnessed many people being killed during the assault. I simply ran. I did not have time to understand what was going on or to gather my belongings. My son was in town during the attack with the rest of my family. I was unable to even bring him with me. He is eight years old now, and I have only spoken to him once in almost a year.

"There is still no network in the area, and I cannot call him. I know some of my relatives are looking after him, but there is not a day that goes by without thinking of him. I am worried about my son. I do not know how he is or what he is doing," said Sarah.

MSF midwife Kira (left) and psychologist Graziana (middle) have a medical consultation with a woman who was rescued

"I then went to Khartoum, in Sudan, to work and save some money to send to my child but I was an illegal migrant in the country. I was afraid of being apprehended and imprisoned, as it happened to many others in my situation. After a few months, a friend of mine helped me to go to Libya. I travelled with a group of people, but I did not know any of them. I was alone. We spent five days in the desert.

"After we entered Libya, we were taken to a prison. There were no men in uniform, but the wardens were heavily armed. They used to beat the men every day. There was not enough food for everyone. I was held captive for two months and was only released when I paid the ransom. I gave them the money I earned while working in Khartoum. Then, we were transferred to another place, where I was held captive for ten months.

"They were beating us but they were keeping us alive, only to take money from us. I was eventually let go because I could not pay another ransom. I arrived at the coast a few days later and boarded a rubber boat with many other people to cross the sea. It is the same boat in which you [MSF] found me," Sarah said.