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.

UN Women works in crises prevention, preparedness and response to reduce vulnerabilities, address risks, promote resilience and leverage women’s leadership.

UN Women fulfils its role in conflict prevention and recovery through its normative work in assisting Member States and the United Nations to develop and implement policies; coordination across the UN system and the humanitarian community; and through programming on the ground. Our mandate in this area is supported by three operational programmes on crisis prevention, preparedness and response. 

Under crises prevention, preparedness and disaster risk reduction, UN Women, United Nations for Disaster Risk Reduction and International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have joined forces to address the high and unequal risk exposure of women and girls to the impact of climate-related natural disaster. The joint global programme, Gender Inequality of Risk and promoting Community Resilience to Natural Hazards in a Changing Climate (GIR) provides a mechanism to support countries in operationalizing and achieving the gender commitments under the Sendai framework Agreement for Disaster Risk Reduction, and to deliver on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Under crisis response, UN Women works in complex humanitarian contexts in 30 countries to restore dignity and promote resilience of female-headed households, and provide durable solutions for refugees. In 2016 alone, UN Women served 120 000 displaced and refugee women and girls under its global flagship programme initiative, Women’s Leadership, Empowerment, Access and Protection (LEAP) . The Global Acceleration Instrument (GAI) for Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action, set up by UN Women, is a flexible and rapid global funding mechanism. By investing directly in local women’s groups, the GAI is an effective and efficient way to provide significantly higher levels of direct support to local responders.

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

World Humanitarian Day

A woman in a refugee camp in Cameroon learns to write. Credit: UN Women/Ryan Brown

While everyone suffers in crises, women and girls experience unique risks. All forms of gender-based violence against women and girls spike during disasters and conflict; rates of girls dropping out of school or getting married too early may also rise. Crisis often hit women’s livelihoods hardest, in part because they tend to work in informal sectors more.More