Not optional: 5 ways we can help women and girls facing crisis

the perspectives of women and girls must be heard and acted upon

We know the coming decades will bring new crises. Climate change will unleash violent storms, droughts or flooding. Inequality will breed conflicts within states and beyond.

Whether a sudden earthquake, a dramatic escalation of violence or living as a refugee for more than a decade, the risk women and girls will face is real, but so are the opportunities if we consider what they need from the start.

If we want to help, we must get this part right.

The collective “we” includes governments, UN organizations, humanitarian agencies, local groups and anyone who puts money towards these efforts.

Over the past year, CARE brought together more than 40 organizations to sign on to a joint policy position looking at how we can better help women and girls in an emergency.

The position paper can be found here. Much of the guidance looks at change within the humanitarian system, seeking to better navigate how actors work together and learn from those we’re seeking to help.

The goal, it should be said, is not just to help women and girls. It is to ensure we better respond to the specific needs that exist so all can benefit – regardless of gender.

By encouraging and taking advantage of women’s strength and potential, we can strengthen our impact, better use limited resources and develop a sustainable response that saves lives and helps people recover.

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1. A chance to speak and be heard - Women’s and girls’ voice and leadership

There is no longer any question of women being passive victims waiting for aid. They are volunteers, activists, and first responders. They are risking their lives to help and speak up for others.

To ignore this reality is not only discriminatory. It leads to less effective humanitarian responses. And it puts lives at risk.

Yet widespread power imbalances and gendered biases mean that women and girls are too often viewed as not having anything to add to the discussion, or not fully comprehending the “real” issues at play – as if men around the table are equipped to make life-saving decisions around reproductive health, obstetric care, or the best place to put a latrine so that women can access it safely.

Each phase of an emergency response – from preparing in advance, to dealing with the urgent moments after a crisis, and long-term recovery – needs to consider the perspectives of women and girls. This means having avenues for women facing an emergency to speak, be heard and have their issues acted upon.

Improving women’s voice and leadership includes:

  • Providing safe spaces for women and girls to share their needs and concerns
  • Investing in gender in emergency specialists from the Global South, who understand how a crisis could impact women, girls, men and boys
  • Ensuring funding is structured to support and strengthen local women’s and girls’ rights organizations who know their communities best and will remain long after the crisis is over.
  • Standardizing budgets for gender-specific activities: Organizations seeking funds must demonstrate how they will consider gender in their work. Donors providing such funding need to ensure the humanitarian efforts are responsive to the gender dynamic on the ground.

 

2. Sexual and reproductive health saves lives

Fact: women are still pregnant and have babies during emergencies.

Yet, more than 500 women and girls facing crisis lose their lives from preventable causes related to reproductive health every day. Studies have shown some of the least developed countries facing conflict receive less funding for reproductive health than low income countries at peace.

Support for sexual and reproductive health is as vital as clean water, food or shelter. It saves lives and should not be considered optional in any emergency.

This means:

  • Access to sexual and reproductive health services needs to be part of every humanitarian response. There are minimum standards for ensuring sexual and reproductive health needs and services are addressed from the outset of an emergency. These need to be truly treated as a standard.
  • Health services must respect women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive rights and choices.
  • Women and girls have a chance to speak out to improve health services to better address their needs.
  • Flexible funding is vital to support sexual and reproductive health through the emergency and help improve health systems to better deliver these services after the crisis ends.

Support for sexual and reproductive health is as vital as clean water, food or shelter. It saves lives and should not be considered optional in any emergency.

3. Prevent and respond to violence

Whether it’s rape as a weapon of war or increases in domestic violence, crisis exposes women and girls to substantial risk. We must recognize and respond to this reality.

To do so:

  • Gender-based violence prevention and response services should be prioritized and funded in every humanitarian response.
  • Support local rights actors speaking out against gender-based violence and offering victims safety and support
  • Invest in better monitoring and accountability to prevent violence
  • Support national and local agencies to better investigate and prosecute cases of gender based violence.

 

4. Prevent sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse

All agencies must do everything they can to do no harm to those they are seeking to help.

Donors should support efforts of UN agencies, civil society organizations, national and local actors to come together to both address the root causes of sexual exploitation and abuse and be held accountable to ensure this cannot continue. The people we work to help must be safe from abuse and exploitation of any kind.

 

5.Support women’s economic empowerment

Emergencies disrupt jobs and livelihoods. Families may have lost their savings and can be forced to work in precarious positions. Helping people move forward with their lives requires allowing them to safely earn money to support their own recovery.

This includes:

  • Removing legal and policy barriers that prevent women from safely earning an income
  • Focusing on women’s economic empowerment as a core strategy to promote a community’s economic development, while also preventing sexual exploitation, child labour or early and forced marriage.

 

Right now, more than 67 million women and girls are in need of humanitarian assistance. If we really want to help, we must come together and hear what these women have to say and act on their demands.

Now is the time for the international community to come together to make a real difference for women and girls facing crisis. Add your name to our petition to show your support for gender equality.