Gender-based violence (GBV) is a life-threatening global health and human rights issue. International humanitarian law establishes protections for civilians, including women and children, during times of conflict. Gender-based violence violates both international human rights law and principles of gender equality. Successive UN Security Council Resolutions have specifically prohibited the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. All humanitarian actors are responsible for preventing sexual exploitation, reporting abuse in humanitarian settings and ensuring that humanitarian assistance is provided impartially, without bias or discrimination based on age, gender, race, ethnicity or religion. The full exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms by girls and women is a prerequisite for sustainable development and peace.
During emergencies such as conflicts or natural disasters, the risk of violence, exploitation and abuse is heightened, particularly for women and girls. At the same time, national systems and community and social support networks may weaken. An environment of impunity may mean that perpetrators are not held to account. Pre-existing gender inequalities may be exacerbated. Women and adolescent girls are often at particular risk of sexual violence, exploitation and abuse, forced or early marriage, denial of resources and harmful traditional practices. Men and boys may also be survivors. GBV has significant and long-lasting impacts on the health and psychological, social and economic well-being of survivors and their families.
States hold primary responsibility and must take action to protect their citizens; in emergencies, however, mandated United Nations agencies act to support national authorities, helping them to meet their responsibilities to provide protection and humanitarian assistance to affected populations. UNFPA plays a vital role in humanitarian contexts, including coordinating measures to prevent, mitigate and respond to gender-based violence. UNFPA is a member of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), the primary mechanism for inter-agency coordination of humanitarian assistance.
The heads of all IASC member agencies (the IASC Principals) are committed to ensuring the centrality of protection in all humanitarian action – throughout preparedness, response and recovery. In practical terms, this means identifying risks from the outset of a crisis and taking into account the specific vulnerabilities of women, girls, boys and men, as well as other potentially vulnerable population subsets, including persons with disabilities, elderly persons and individuals identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex. The IASC produced guidelines in 2005 and published a comprehensive revision in 2015 titled Guidelines for Integrating GenderBased Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Action: Reducing risk, promoting resilience and aiding recovery (the ‘GBV Guidelines’).
To ensure good coordination when emergencies occur, the IASC has introduced the Cluster Approach. Clusters are groups of humanitarian organizations, both UN and non-UN, in each of the main sectors of humanitarian action such as water, health and logistics. In contexts where the IASC Cluster Approach has been activated, UNFPA and UNICEF are mandated to co-lead the GBV Area of Responsibility (GBV AoR), a subsidiary body of the Global Protection Cluster, which is led by UNHCR. As co-lead, UNFPA is accountable for working closely with national authorities, partners and communities, to ensure that minimum standards are in place to prevent and respond to gender-based violence in emergencies. In non-clustered and refugee contexts, UNFPA’s coordination role may vary depending on the particular emergency context, presence of other UN agencies and existing local capacity. UNFPA has committed to scaling up humanitarian response and increasing its organizational capacity to prevent gender-based violence and ensure multi-sector services for survivors.
To advance this strategic objective, and support partners in the IASC, UNFPA has developed the Minimum Standards for Prevention and Response to Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies. The objective is to provide clarity on what constitutes effective and appropriate GBV prevention and response in emergencies by offering concrete actions that can be applied across various emergency contexts. The Minimum Standards are based on international best practice and, while primarily intended for UNFPA staff and partners, may also be a used as a resource to guide other agencies’ efforts to address gender-based violence in emergencies.