During crises, such as conflict or disasters, women often endure extreme hardship such as increased violence and insecurity, restricted mobility, and additional care, domestic and livelihood responsibilities.
International relief efforts aim to help all those affected, but when based on assumptions of cultural norms and women’s role in society, they can increase insecurity and reverse gains that women had already made. Just as crises are not gender-neutral, effective humanitarian responses cannot be either.
This entails working proactively with humanitarian actors to ensure their emergency response plans adequately integrate gender equality and women’s empowerment; that women and girls are equally consulted to understand and address their needs and vulnerabilities; that gender is mainstreamed into humanitarian assessments, reporting and monitoring tools; and that gender experts are included in the humanitarian teams responding to the crisis.
UN Women’s roles in recent humanitarian crises have included:
- In the Ebola-affected countries of the West Africa Ebola crisis, UN Women has been supporting sensitization and advocacy efforts to increase understanding of the gender dimensions of the outbreak and its importance in helping to curb the spread of Ebola and mitigate its impacts. This has been happening primarily in Liberia and Sierra Leone, where UN Women will soon be deploying gender in humanitarian action experts to support the ongoing response.
- In South Sudan, UN Women established a women-and-girls-friendly centres in the Protection of Civilian sites in Juba, providing safe spaces for women to meet regularly to network, share, discuss problems and seek assistance. In partnership with a local NGO, UN Women is also providing training on vocational skills, literacy, human rights, prevention of gender-based violence, peacebuilding and reconciliation.
- To support humanitarian efforts for Syrian refugees, UN Women has established Women and Girls Oasis Centres at the Za'atari Camp in Jordan, which provide ongoing protection and gender-based violence interventions including psychological support, education and recreational activities. Trades training and cash-for-work programmes are also increasing their economic independence and social status.
- In Palestine, UN Women has supported the agency of women’s organizations, through workshops and dialogues to ensure they can take part in humanitarian coordination and planning. UN Women’s gender needs assessments and focus group discussions have revealed that women’s voices remain unheard by humanitarians, leaving women and girls feeling marginalized in humanitarian responses.
- In Kenya, after trainings by UN Women and the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), humanitarian actors reviewed emergency preparedness plans to ensure that gender-equality was more adequately integrated as a central facet. Kenya’s Initial Rapid Assessment tools were changed to enhance collection of sex- and age-disaggregated data. A national team of 23 stand-by experts on gender equality, gender-based violence and preparedness was established, who have further trained more than 300 humanitarian actors in hubs or hotspots across the region. UN Women also works with partners to provide livelihood opportunities, access to justice and psychosocial support for female refugees in the Dadaab camp.
- In Mali, to increase economic empowerment for displaced women, UN Women is working through 20 women’s houses, where women are able to meet and work together. Some 1,831 women have benefited from funding for livelihood projects in Mopti, Timbuktu, Gao, Kidal and Bamako.
- In Haiti, after the 2010 earthquake, UN Women worked to strengthen security and ensure a gender-responsive humanitarian and early-recovery response. The Government, UN Women and other partners established measures to prevent gender-based violence and respond to the needs of women in camps; provide services including temporary shelters for violence survivors and their families; and create income-generating activities for young people and women. UN Women also helped reorganize the way food was distributed—as initial assessments showed that women were being assaulted after receiving food—and supported street vendors to supply food to a certain number of vulnerable families.
- After the Fiji floods in 2012, a UN Women gender review revealed that the response had not adequately addressed gender issues. As a result, partners recognized the gaps and the Government and United Nations Gender Group requested trainings on gender in humanitarian action. With the support of UN Women, the Ministry of Women developed Standard Operating Procedures for Gender-Based Violence, with specific considerations for humanitarian settings. The Fiji National Disaster Management Office established a national Protection Cluster and, with technical assistance from UN Women, developed Guidelines for Evacuation Centers to ensure protection of women and girls.