A humanitarian call to action we can’t afford to ignore

Is development aid missing the mark on gender? More than 2,000 delegates of the World Bank member countries have concluded the Bank’s annual “Spring meetings” which usually encompasses discussion of the world’s most pressing issues affecting health and well-being of people and economies. Protracted crises are on the rise and at least 67 million women and girls will require humanitarian assistance this year, causing us to ask the question whether we are really doing enough to help these women and girls in crisis. This is why a recently adopted multi-agency position was discussed at the Bank meeting session “Collective Action for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls in Humanitarian Contexts.” CARE initiated the position, bringing together the more than 40 global organisations that signed on to “Women and girls’ rights and agency in humanitarian action: A life-saving priority.”

As CARE International’s Secretary General, Caroline Kende-Robb said: “In an emergency, women are not passive. They are risking their lives to help. To ignore this reality is not only discriminatory, it leads to less effective humanitarian responses. And it puts lives at risk.” Long-term, predictable funding for local women and girls’ rights is among three things CARE and others are urging in order to promote gender equality; other vital steps include ensuring more meaningful participation by women in the very fora where decisions are taken.

Today’s many crises include those induced by disasters which are made worse by the impacts of climate change; add to these, the increasing number of intra-state conflicts, record levels of forced displacement and rising inequality and the result is a precarious existence for billions of people. In conflict-ridden situations, women and girls are at heightened risk of gender-based violence and trafficking, unintended pregnancy, maternal morbidity and mortality, unsafe abortions, and child, early and forced marriage. It is fair to recognise that governments, donors, United Nations agencies, civil society organisations, and national and local actors are taking important steps to enact new policies, establish new standards and transform the ways in which humanitarian agencies and the humanitarian coordination system plan and operate on the ground.

Five paths to more impactful aid

Drawing on emerging initiatives, best-practice, research and the perspectives of affected communities themselves, the position provides a blueprint for governments, donors, UN agencies, civil society organisations, and national and local actors. The 40+ agencies are urging all to accelerate joint work as outlined in the five overarching paths, each with further detailed indications for easing suffering and promoting stability and justice:

  • Women’s and girls’ voice and leadership
  • Equitable access to sexual and reproductive health services
  • Prevention and response to gender-based violence
  • Prevention of sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse
  • Supporting women’s economic empowerment

Addressing delegates at the Spring meetings, Caroline Kende-Rob stressed: “It is high-time that the international community rally together to uphold women’s and girls’ rights and agency where they are furthest behind: in conflict and emergency settings. Humanitarian funding structures and compliance systems must be adjusted to put women's and girls' rights actors at the forefront of every humanitarian response.”  She emphasised that inter-agency position as a blueprint for all of us committed to real change—a blueprint whose calls to action include ensuring meaningful participation of women and girls - both at high-level roundtables in Washington, as well as at cluster meetings in countries like South Sudan; holding humanitarian agencies accountable to work with women’s and girls’ rights actors including through quantitative and qualitative reporting; and mobilising long-term, predictable funding for local women and girls' rights actorsbecause these organisations alone are capable of putting women at centre of conversation before the response even begins.

Like Angelina Nyajima Simon Jial of South Sudan, who delivered recommendations to the UN Security Council for women-led NGOs this past March, millions of women around the world are ready to take up the mantle of implementing such recommendations. Perhaps we aren’t completely missing the mark on aid but neither will we really hit it if we don’t prioritise gender now; what we will do is make some strides only to find that the world’s poorest are still not empowered for the kind of lasting change that is good for women, and good for all of us.  

Read more about CARE's emphasis on women and girls in emergency response.