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She is a humanitarian: Women’s participation in humanitarian action drawing on global trends and evidence from Jordan and the Philippines



This report, based on extensive research and consultations by CARE International, argues that efforts to protect and assist people caught up in natural disasters and conflict will be more effective if women can contribute.

Over the past two years, CARE interviewed over 300 women involved in humanitarian action either at a global level or in emergency responses in Jordan (to the Syria crisis) and the Philippines (to Typhoon Haiyan). Three interlinked, and widely shared, issues emerged:

Women are not just victims: the humanitarian system still primarily sees women and girls as victims, and treats women and girls as passive beneficiaries of humanitarian assistance.

Gender is not just a tick-box: efforts to ensure that the specific needs of people of all genders are addressed in humanitarian action are seen as a tokenistic, tick-box exercise at the planning stage, with a lack of followthrough in the implementation of humanitarian assistance.

She is a humanitarian: women’s organisations, and individual women, are already playing a key role as frontline responders in disasters and conflicts. They are playing a leading role in affected communities, helping everyone in those communities – women, men, girls and boys – survive, cope with and adapt to the crisis. The contribution of women as humanitarian actors needs to be recognised and supported.
Based on our extensive consultations with women activists at national and global levels, as well as a literature review and discussions with policy-makers, the report identifies four emerging trends in humanitarian response:

A shift from women as victims to women as first responders: this shift in policy and practice was recognised at a global level by the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, and now needs to be carried through in implementing and delivering on the Summit’s core commitments on gender.

A shift from tick-box gender accountability to a comprehensive approach: this means ensuring gender is addressed at all levels, from funding through project planning and delivery to M&E and accountability.

Increasing the support and space for women to participate in humanitarian action: as agencies more seriously address their accountability to affected populations, the specific challenges of accountability to women and girls are getting recognised.

Recognising the participation of local women’s groups in humanitarian action: contributions by women-led civil society groups are increasingly recognised at the level of policy rhetoric, but this is not yet translating into funding or joint work on the ground.

The challenges and opportunities are explored in evidence from Jordan and the Philippines, including a case study of Syrian women’s activism in Jordan, and accountability for gender in the shelter sector in the Philippines. The report concludes with recommendations for different stakeholders involved in humanitarian action: donors, governments in crisis-affected contexts, the United Nations, INGOs, and local women’s groups. Key recommendations are:

Bring the World Humanitarian Summit Gender Core Commitments to the field level.
Emphasis should be placed on integrating the Summit’s gender outcomes into follow-up on the Grand Bargain and the Call to Action on Protection from Gender-based Violence in Emergencies at global and field level, for example by identifying pilot countries. Donors and host governments in crisis-affected countries should likewise identify action plans to translate the global commitments on women’s participation into practice in the context of national disaster management strategies, national action plans on women, peace and security, emergency response funding and related frameworks.

Identify individual and collective commitments on gender and Leave No One Behind at the leadership level in global clusters, Humanitarian Country Teams, field clusters or sector working groups, and national line ministries.
Humanitarian Coordinators should convene consultations with relevant stakeholders, including local women’s groups, to identify priorities in implementing UN Humanitarian Response Plans for 2017. Senior leadership at global and country levels is critical to enable technical gender expertise and the experience of women from affected communities to inform decision-making. Progress should be reviewed at mid-year and end-of-year points.

Strengthen and align approaches to ‘whole of programme cycle’ accountability for gender and Leave No One Behind, measuring outcomes, not just processes, in humanitarian funding.
Donors, UN agencies and NGOs should work together to integrate good practices, building on the IASC Gender and Age Marker, the Minimum Standards on Gender and Age piloted in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector, and the IASC Gender-based Violence Guidelines. Accountability in crisis response funding should be framed in a comprehensive manner to address gender equality, women’s leadership and participation, gender-based violence prevention and response, and sexual and reproductive health and rights – avoiding siloed approaches and maximising links between efforts in different sectors. Crucially, it needs to shift away from the tick-box approach focusing only on processes towards accountability to ensure actual improvements in how people access assistance and protection.

Give humanitarian action a women’s face – appoint female staff at all levels.
All institutions involved in humanitarian action should undertake gender audits of their organisational culture and human resource management and set milestones to increase female staffing and gender sensitivity at all levels.
Donors should make this mandatory in multi-year funding for preparedness, resilience and disaster risk reduction.

Strengthen partnerships with and increase multi-year and flexible funding to local women’s organisations (in line with the wider Grand Bargain commitment to channel 25% of funding to local organisations).
Partnerships between local women’s groups and humanitarian agencies should be fostered to promote learning in both directions and leverage these partnerships to become drivers of change for women’s participation, gender equality and gender-based violence prevention and response in each sector.
The needs of people affected by a crisis, as well as their coping strategies, are shaped by gender. As humanitarians, if we don’t try to understand these, then we are not doing our job. While the specific roles played by women and girls are often off the radar for mainstream humanitarian action, they are in fact amongst the first and frontline responders. It’s already happening, and the challenge and opportunity for the humanitarian system is to now better support those efforts.