Emergencies, disasters and our humanitarian response | ActionAid UK

Emergencies, disasters and our humanitarian response

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

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

When a disaster strikes, our local staff work round the clock delivering life-saving supplies to the worst hit communities. We seek to put local women in charge, advising what their communities need, and overseeing the distribution of aid to the most vulnerable, to ensure fairness and transparency. They ensure that people get the life-saving aid that is their right

In the long term, we work to rebuild communities, and strengthen their resilience. ActionAid trains women in leadership skills and disaster preparedness so that they are better equipped to lead their communities — in times of crisis and beyond. 

Areas we focus on:

ActionAid’s work in emergencies in 2016

Emergencies responded to 1

People received emergency assistance2

People trained to protect lives and livelihoods and prepare for emergencies3

ActionAid’s recent emergency work

Women and girls’ rights in emergencies

Ensuring that we work with women means that we do not overlook needs or vulnerabilities that are specific to women and girls in emergencies. We provide women safe spaces, where women can get access to information and support, and distribute sanitary towels in our emergency response work.

We provided safe spaces in Greece at the height of the refugee crisis in Europe. ActionAid’s women’s centres on the island of Lesvos and in Athens provided vital support to traumatized mothers and children fleeing violent conflict in other countries. For new arrivals we provided hygiene kits with wipes, soap and nappies, and places to breastfeed in private. They gave women a space to talk and grieve with those who survived a long and dangerous journey. 

Rapid response and recovery led by women 

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.

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.1 

  • 1. 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

Building resilience for the future

In the months and years following an emergency we work with local women to give them the support they need face the future with renewed hope, whether it’s raising houses above floods levels, or helping them get back to work with loans or buying cows or fishing boats. We listen to what they really need.

In Sierra Leone, our commitment to long term support means we continue to work with grieving communities who were affected by the Ebola crisis, to help them recover from the physical, psychological and financial losses caused by the outbreak.

In areas that face a lot of natural disasters, we train women to respond to the next disaster when it hits. In Nepal, ActionAid teaches schoolchildren how to protect themselves when earthquakes strike. In Bangladesh we train women to lead people to shelters during cyclones. The results are astonishing: in Bangladesh in 2013, Cyclone Mahasen killed 17 people, compared to 3,500 deaths during Cyclone Sidr in 2000.


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Read our latest blog posts about our emergency and humanitarian response work.

Learn more about our policy and research on protecting women's rights in emergencies.

We work in rural and urban communities across Africa, Asia and Latin America.


Photo credits: Brian Sokol/ActionAid, Laura Elizabeth Pohl/ActionAid, Mahmud/MAP/ActionAid, Anna Pantelia/ActionAid, Srikanth Kolari/ActionAid, Kate Holt/ActionAid.

Page updated 18 March 2018