Humanitarian action

Photo: UNICEF/Shehzad Noorani
Photo: UNICEF/Shehzad Noorani

When crisis occurs, people’s lives change in an instant. Death, injury, displacement, and the destruction of infrastructure and institutions impact entire communities as a result.

Crises impact women, girls, boys and men of all ages differently. As a result, their needs and interests differ, as do their resources, capacities and coping strategies. Women are often the first responders to a crisis, and they play a central role in the survival and resilience of families and communities.

Women and girls are not helpless victims. Humanitarian efforts must recognize the fact that women and girls—like men and boys—have much to contribute in preparing for, and responding to, crises. Women must be included in decision-making about the forms of assistance and protection they need. Humanitarian action can also present opportunities for new and more progressive gender roles and relationships to emerge.

Our solutions

UN Women is committed to ensuring equality between women and men as partners and beneficiaries of humanitarian action. Our work in humanitarian action is guided by global norms and standards and is set out in the UN Women Humanitarian Strategy 2014–2017.

Through its inter-agency leadership and coordination role, UN Women supports other UN organizations in promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment in their humanitarian efforts. We assist Member States in implementing policies and commitments to gender equality and women’s empowerment in humanitarian action. We also promote the voices, agency and capacity of women’s civil society organizations and national women’s machineries in humanitarian efforts.

UN Women fulfils its humanitarian role by providing coordination and leadership, technical expertise, capacity-building, and evidence-based response and advocacy to the global humanitarian system.

UN Women played a crucial role in ensuring that gender equality and women and girls’ empowerment was an overarching theme at the World Humanitarian Summit which took place in Istanbul in May 2016. Twenty per cent of all commitments made at the WHS addressed gender issues. UN Women co-convened the high level round table on ‘Women and Girls: Catalyzing Action to Achieve Gender Equality’ which resulted in 446 commitments. In total, there were 509 individual and joint commitments that included targeted actions for gender equality and women and girls’ empowerment made at the summit, including five core commitments that were made under the Women and Girls Round Table. These commitments will guide the work of the international humanitarian system going forward.

Another key outcome of the WHS is the Grand Bargain, a ground-breaking agreement between the 15 biggest donors and 15 biggest aid providers to reform humanitarian financing. UN Women is proud to be a signatory and a member of the newly formed Facilitation Group for the Grand Bargain. UN Women will also work with all signatories to ensure that the WHS commitments to women and girls are mainstreamed throughout the implementation of the Grand Bargain.

As noted in the Secretary-General’s report on the outcome of the WHS, the Summit confirmed that gender equality, fulfillment of women’s and girls’ human rights and their empowerment in political, humanitarian and development spheres is a universal responsibility. At the Summit, there was wide agreement among UN Member States, UN entities, the private sector and civil society organizations on the need to support the work of local women and women’s organizations by placing them as leaders and agents of change in humanitarian work. 

Download a two-page thematic brief on UN Women’s work on humanitarian action.

Women in humanitarian action

A woman refugee in Burundi.

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