Time for a Better Bargain: How the Aid System Shortchanges Women and Girls in Crisis

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Executive Summary

More than one in 33 people worldwide (235 million) will need humanitarian assistance and protection this year. Women and girls are typically disproportionately affected by conflict and disasters. They are generally more likely to be displaced and subjected to genderbased violence and livelihood loss. The international community has long recognized that investing in women-led crisis response and prioritizing gender equality are key to effectively meet humanitarian and recovery needs, and to achieve peace and prosperity. Yet despite this recognition, women’s and girls’ priorities often go unmet and their voices and expertise go unheeded. While women constitute the bulk of COVID-19 carers and first responders, women-led groups remain undervalued and under-resourced. Funding to frontline women’s organizations in fragile and conflict-affected areas remains at a paltry 0.2% of total bilateral aid, despite an upward trend of increased total aid committed to support gender equality efforts.

CARE’s global advocacy campaign, #SheLeadsInCrisis, calls this out: Women are most affected by crises; they must lead efforts to prevent and respond to them. When women and girls lead, entire communities benefit and sustainable solutions prevail. Women’s and girls’ involvement in humanitarian programming yields more effective and inclusive humanitarian response.

To that end, in this report CARE appraises key actors in the international aid system on three priority areas:

A. Resourcing women’s rights organizations, women-led organizations and women’s institutions in crisis-affected areas;

B. Funding for gender equality and empowerment of women’s and girls’ programming; and

C. Elevating leadership and equal participation of women and women’s organizations in humanitarian responses and crises.

This report draws on publicly available and accessible information to assess progress on a set of seven gender-specific benchmarks drawn from the High-Level Roundtable on Women and Girls at the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit in 2016. The roundtable gathered key international actors and governments seeking to define strategic initiatives to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment in humanitarian crises in accordance with the UN Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality and the Women, Peace and Security Agenda of the UN Security Council.6 These proposed commitments present the most concrete set of gender-specific goals for funding and leadership in humanitarian contexts.

The report analyzes the performance of the top 10 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) donors,7 along with EU institutions and five of the UN agencies most active in crisis response. It also assesses humanitarian clusters — key forums which play a critical coordination, leadership and accountability role in aid responses, and which are normally led by a UN agency and co-led by an international Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). The donors and UN agencies combined represent a significant proportion of the international aid system. Additionally, CARE self-assessed against the same criteria.

While the World Humanitarian Summit benchmarks were not universally or formally adopted, or included in the subsequent Grand Bargain between donors, UN agencies and INGOs following the Summit, they remain the most unified and concrete set of gender-specific goals for funding and leadership in humanitarian contexts. They also reflect emerging global standards8 and policy priorities that all of the actors reviewed have committed to and, through the UN Security Council’s Women Peace and Security Agenda and the 2030 Agenda, are obligated to prioritize and take action to fulfill.

Despite positive and often impressive multilateral, individual donor and UN agency initiatives since the 2016 Summit, CARE’s analysis revealed:

  • Donors and UN agencies have fallen short, with notable exceptions, of significantly funding women’s groups in fragile and conflict-affected states; seven of 11 top donors allocated less than 1% of aid to fragile states and directly to women’s organizations.

  • Most do not sufficiently fund gender equality or gender-sensitive programs; seven of 11 government donors allocate barely 2% of funds to targeted gender equality programming in humanitarian settings. Only four are close to ensuring all funded programs in humanitarian settings account equally for the needs of women and girls and men and boys.

  • UN agencies and humanitarian coordination clusters do not systematically track which of their partners are women’s rights or women-led organizations, making it difficult to assess whether the rhetoric around empowering local women’s groups9 is matched in reality.

  • One notable success has been increased gender parity in UN operations, showing that, with adequate political will and resourcing, change is possible.

Worryingly, the COVID-19 pandemic’s substantial economic and social toll threatens to reverse even modest progress on funding gender equality efforts and to exacerbate chronic underresourcing of frontline women’s organizations in fragile and conflict-affected contexts, despite evidence that women and girls-led crisis response leads to more effective, inclusive and longlasting impact.