Protecting women's rights in emergencies | ActionAid UK

Protecting women's rights in emergencies

Women and girls suffer a double injustice in emergencies and humanitarian crises. 

Why we work on women’s rights in emergencies

Firstly, because disasters and armed conflict create the conditions in which existing gender inequalities are compounded. Women and girls are more vulnerable to the effects of emergencies, less able to access life-saving services and less likely to be part of decision-making that affects their lives. 

Secondly, because the current humanitarian system is male-dominated, it discriminates against women playing leadership roles. This is the case even though they are often the first responders at times of crisis. Women are in the frontline of humanitarian responses, taking risks, providing essential reconstructive and community rehabilitation work – all too often completely unpaid.

What’s our position on women’s rights in emergencies?

ActionAid considers humanitarian crises as part of the cycle of rights denial and poverty, whereby conflict and disaster impact those who are most vulnerable and deepen existing inequalities in access to decision-making and resources.

Advancing women’s rights in emergencies, and specifically promoting women’s leadership in disaster preparedness, response and recovery, is part of critical strategy for shifting power to women. As an urgent matter both of principle and effectiveness, humanitarian efforts must recognise the rights, roles and agency of women and girls.

Standing with women and girls to end violence

El Niño: The Silent Emergency

Trusting women’s leadership in response to the crisis.

Promises to keep

On the Frontline

Catalysing women’s leadership in humanitarian action.

Women in Surge

How can humanitarian organisations encourage more women in surge.


See all ActionAid’s policy reports

What are our findings on women’s rights in humanitarian crises?

Jerry canWith any kind of disaster, women and girls are especially vulnerable to the impacts. Women and girls are usually responsible for collecting water for the family, a role that has significant consequences in times of drought.

Women leadershipWomen’s leadership contributes to better disaster preparedness and risk reduction; more efficient and effective humanitarian response; and inclusive and sustainable peace building and conflict resolution in communities.

Mother holding sonThere are significant barriers that need to be overcome for women to strengthen their leadership and participation in humanitarian response.

For example, women’s unequal share of unpaid work also limits the time and resources women have available to engage in community-level decision-making and leadership.

Our recommendations on protecting women’s rights in emergencies

  1. We call for recognition and valuing of the vital role that woman play in humanitarian crises. Women and girls are not simply victims of crises and recipients of relief, but have ambitions, expertise, and skills. Recognition is the first step to open up space for women’s participation and their leadership in decision-making bodies in humanitarian response and recovery.
  2. We urge representation of women in humanitarian leadership at all levels. Donors, UN agencies, INGOs and governments should address and overcome social, economic, institutional and institutional barriers that impact of women’s ability to engage in humanitarian leadership through targeted programs, initiatives and further research.
  3. We demand renewed commitment to promote a humanitarian architecture that advances and protects women’s rights and allocate funds for its implementation through direct funding to local and national women’s organisations working in emergencies.


Progress on women’s rights in emergencies

Women’s empowermemt in humanitarian action was core theme at World Humanitarian Summit

One of the seven High Level Leaders’ Roundtables in the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016 focused on women’s empowerment and gender equality in humanitarian action.

Gender equality and women and girls’ empowerment emerged as an overarching theme of the Summit.

Of all 32 core commitments, the core commitment to ensure humanitarian programming is gender-responsive received the third highest number of endorsements.


Page updated 15 May 2019