Emergencies, disasters and our humanitarian response | ActionAid UK

Emergencies, disasters and our humanitarian response

Women and girls often suffer the most during humanitarian emergencies. Typically, 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.

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

That’s why, when a disaster strikes, ActionAid does things differently . We work directly with local women and girls to provide support and save lives. Our unique approach in an emergency is to empower local women to lead the response as they know best what their communities need and get life-saving supplies quickly and fairly to those who need it most.

Ensuring that we work with women means that we do not overlook needs or vulnerabilities that are specific to women and girls.In the long-term, we work to rebuild communities and strengthen their resilience to future crises. 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 2018

Emergencies responded to

People supported by ActionAid

Dignity kits handed out to women and girls in Rohingya refugee camps

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-only safe spaces, where women and girls can access education and training, often for the first time in their lives. They learn to read, gain new skills and start to recognise their own potential.

In these safe spaces, women and girls receive emotional support for the horrors they have experienced. They can also access medical referrals for cases of rape and other forms of violence.

ActionAid Bangladesh has set up six safe spaces for women in the refugee camp for Rohingya Muslims in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh. By the end of 2018, these safe spaces had supported nearly 16,000 women and girls who had escaped the conflict in Myanmar.

Rapid response and recovery led by women 

We know from our emergency response work, most recently in Malawi, Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Kenya, Somaliland and Nepal, 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 to face the future with renewed hope. This could be helping raise houses above floods levels, assisting them to get back to work with loans, or providing them with farmyard animals or means of transportation.

We endeavour to listen to what women and girls really need to rebuild their lives after an emergency. 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 high numbers of natural disasters, we train women to respond to the next disaster when it hits. For example, in Nepal, ActionAid teaches schoolchildren skills to protect themselves when earthquakes strike. In Bangladesh, we train women to lead people to shelters during cyclones. The results are astonishing: Cyclone Mahasen killed 17 people in Bangladesh in 2013, compared to 3,500 deaths as a result of Cyclone Sidr in 2007.


Page updated 3 June 2019