Vulnerability- and resilience-based approaches in response to the Syrian crisis: Implications for women, children, and youth with disabilities

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Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, which is now heading into its sixth year, the WRC has worked with partners on the ground to promote the inclusion of refugees with disabilities—an estimated 22% of the population—in assistance programs and in the decision-making process.

In a protracted and complex crisis, humanitarian actors continue to look for ways to strengthen protection and assistance. Vulnerability considerations have typically determined the design and implementation of humanitarian programs. However, program models are emerging in the Syria response that focus on a resilience-based approach—emphasizing skills, capacities, strengths, and assets.

Recognizing the increased attention to resilience in the Syria response, the WRC undertook a project to examine how vulnerability and resilience-based approaches are supporting the protection and empowerment of Syrian refugee women, children, and youth with disabilities.

The WRC has identified a set of actions that must be taken to ensure that the resilience of diverse populations amongst refugees with disabilities are recognized and fostered in programming. While the findings and recommendations are drawn from the Syria crisis, we believe they have relevance across other humanitarian settings.

Key Findings

  • Most organizations engaged in the Syrian crisis consider persons with disabilities as a homogeneous “at-risk” group for prioritization of services or assistance. Intersecting vulnerability factors, such as age and gender, are not often analyzed within this group.

  • Protection assessments assume negative capacity of persons with disabilities. There is rarely any analysis of what resources, skills, and assets people possess that are protective.

  • There is a notable lack of literature, vulnerability- or resilience-based, that focuses on youth as a specific age cohort, reflecting a gap in the sector’s awareness, and understanding of their risks and capacities.

  • WRC and partners’ pilot projects suggest that strengths- and asset-based approaches may be useful programming vehicles to strengthen the resilience of women, children, and youth with disabilities.


Shifting the understanding of persons with disabilities from uniformly vulnerable to individuals with varied skills, capacities, and assets, is critical to ensuring that they are included in the resilience-focused programming that is gaining momentum in humanitarian response.

  • All operational humanitarian organizations should analyze age, gender, and diversity of affected populations systematically throughout the program cycle to understand and address the specific needs and capacities of marginalized groups, ensuring equal access to humanitarian assistance. They should also design programs focused on reducing vulnerability factors and strengthening resilience factors with the aim of moving targeted participants forward on the vulnerability – resilience continuum.

  • Cash actors should evaluate alternative approaches to assessing socioeconomic vulnerability, and pilot cash-based interventions that support beneficiaries’ transition into more sustainable livelihoods, strengthening resilience at the household, as well as the individual level.

  • Protection and disability actors should identify and analyze protection risks across age, gender, and diversity groups by identify intersecting factors that make individuals with disabilities vulnerable to specific protection concerns, and develop strategies to address or mitigate those factors.

  • Donors should invest in research and learning that recognizes and strengthens the protection and resilience of marginalized groups, such as women, children, and youth with disabilities, and support the development of tools and interventions that move beyond the identification of risks, needs, and concerns, to also include capacities, protection strategies, and resiliency.