Women’s leadership in humanitarian crises | ActionAid UK

Women’s leadership in humanitarian crises

Women and girls suffer disproportionately during humanitarian emergencies. More women than men are killed by rapid onset disasters, like tsunamis and earthquakes, and violence against women and girls is exacerbated during all emergencies, and especially in conflict.

In addition, social customs that limit the access that women have to public spaces can mean that women are less able to access life-saving aid and be involved in decision-making that affects their lives

But there is nothing natural about the increased vulnerability that many women face in emergencies. It is the direct result of gender inequalities and systemic discrimination that women experience in their daily lives.

Women’s leadership can facilitate a more rapid response and recovery

We know from our emergency response work, most recently in Gaza, Haiti, Kenya, Somaliland, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines and Vanuatu, that women bring vital skills, resources and experience to humanitarian response.1

Women are among the first responders to a crisis, taking risks and playing critical roles in the survival of families and communities. Women are often responsible for the care and emotional rebuilding of communities in the aftermath of a crisis and they often have strong local knowledge and links with others in the area where they live, which is a critical resource during humanitarian response.

Women’s participation in decision-making is not only a fundamental human right. It has been proven to contribute to better disaster preparedness and risk reduction, as well as peace building and conflict resolution in communities.2 

  • 1. Women’s rights and leadership in humanitarian action, ActionAid (PDF): https://www.actionaid.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/womens-rights-leadership-humanitarian-action.pdf
  • 2. On the frontline: catalysing women’s leadership in humanitarian action (PDF) http://www.actionaid.org/sites/files/actionaid/on_the_frontline_catalysing_womens_leadership_in_humanitarian_action.pdf

How ActionAid works to advance women’s leadership in emergencies

Based on requests from women in countries where we work, ActionAid provides women with training on women’s rights, leadership skills and disaster preparedness so that they are better equipped to lead their communities and know their rights in times of crisis.

We promote women’s engagement as leaders with the international aid organisations that we coordinate with in times of emergency, so that their voices are heard directly at all levels of decision-making.

We work with women’s organisations to promote protection in disasters, including providing safe spaces for women. Safe, inclusive, women-only spaces offer more than just refuge: they can foster women’s leadership, agency, and collective capacity to challenge violence and abuse in times of crisis.  

Most of ActionAid’s emergency responses include cash grants or livelihood programmes which increase women’s access to resources. Where women control resources, their status and influence in the community increases. 

All of these activities can help to bring about long term change in transforming gender relations in communities. By opening the space for women’s leadership alongside men, this contributes to women’s empowerment and the transformation of women’s positions in households and communities.

ActionAid’s pledges on women in humanitarian leadership

At the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, ActionAid pledged to increase our support for women’s leadership in humanitarian responses in the following ways. 

Funding and building capacity of national and local organisations

ActionAid commits to provide increased support by way of direct funding and capacity building to national and local NGOs by 2020.

50% women in leadership

ActionAid commits to ensure at least 50% of leadership positions in humanitarian contexts are held by women by 2020, and that at least 50% of staff at all levels are women by 2020.

50% women making decisions in their communities 

ActionAid commits to ensure that women participate in all decision making processes, and that women will make up at least 50% of rights-holders engaged in community processes that ActionAid leads by 2020. 

50% women’s organisations as implementing partners

ActionAid commits to ensure at least 50% of its implementing partners in humanitarian action are women-led or women’s organisaitons by 2020. 

Increased participation of local organisations in co-ordination 

ActionAid’s staff will be accompanied by local organisations at coordination groups in emergencies. ActionAid will also advocate for the inclusion of these organisations to ensure they have a seat at the table in collective response processes. 

Ending gender based violence in communities 

ActionAid endorsed the Call to Action on Protection from GBV in emergencies in 2016 and commits to integrate women-led community based protection mechanisms as part of its core humanitarian response programming by 2020. 

Increased funding to local and national women’s groups

ActionAid commits to increase funding and capacity development to local and national women’s groups as equal partners in our humanitarian action. 

Humanitarian gender responsive programming

ActionAid commits to ensure all of its humanitarian programming is gender responsive by 2020.

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