Gender and Protection in Humanitarian Action

In the Pacific, cyclones, floods and droughts are becoming increasingly unpredictable and extreme, with devastating effects. Global research has shown that women and children are 14 times more likely than men to die or be injured in a disaster. In a disaster or emergency, women also face increased risks of sexual and gender-based violence; unequal access to humanitarian assistance such as food and shelter; loss of economic opportunities; and increased workloads.

Women are often the first responders to a crisis and play a central role in the survival and resilience of families and communities — yet they are often excluded from decision-making. Women are not consistently consulted in disaster preparedness, response or recovery, which means their voices are not heard and their skills may be underutilized.

The same is often true for people with disabilities; people with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression; the young and the elderly; and other groups with specific vulnerabilities.

Currently, gender is not systematically considered in the Pacific region’s humanitarian responses, either at the national or regional level. Data is not consistently disaggregated by sex, age and disability, rendering the unique protection needs of different groups invisible.

Furthermore, in the initial response, there is often a focus on distribution of tangible commodities such as food, water and first aid, without consideration of human factors that impact effective recovery of individuals and their communities.

Our Solutions

Ensuring that humanitarian action is responsive to gender and protection issues is critical and can be life-saving. It requires a shared understanding of the importance of gender and protection, and a firm commitment to their inclusion by all stakeholders including government, civil society and humanitarian actors.

Planned and coordinated responses by government, non-government organisations, the military, UN agencies, civil society and other actors facilitates effective information sharing and helps to avoid both gaps and overlaps in assistance. Involving local community actors, including women and affected groups, in preparedness and response efforts places people at the centre of their own response and recovery. It promotes culturally and is socially appropriate. It also ensures that humanitarian assistance preserves dignity, promotes self-reliance.

In a first for UN Women globally, in 2016, its Multi-Country Office (MCO) in Fiji was designated by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee as coordination lead for the regional Pacific Humanitarian Protection Cluster (PHPC) Support Team. As lead agency, UN Women is working closely with other key agencies to support existing government structures and processes, leverage comparative advantages and encourage local participation and ownership.

This includes advocating for the needs of specific groups, such as people with disabilities and those with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. UN Women is promoting localized and inclusive humanitarian action with women and men having equal voice and opportunity to participate in, and lead, disaster preparedness and response.

In the Pacific, UN Women is supporting national humanitarian actors and systems in the: (a) coordination of protection actors during preparedness and response to ensure the safety and dignity of disaster-affected populations; (b) coordination of actors addressing gender-based violence in emergencies; and (c) mainstreaming gender and protection across other humanitarian sectors including shelter, food security etc. UN Women also adapts existing programming as needed for emergency response. Click here to read about how UN Women responds to natural disasters.

As an organisation, UN Women Aotearoa New Zealand National Committee are open to new opportunities for innovative, partnered and sustainable projects that support enhancing responsiveness to gender and protection in humanitarian action.

Please contact us if you are interested in working with us or donating to our cause.