I am Aysel Vazirova, PhD, an independent gender and development consultant. Recently, I completed an evaluation of a gender-based violence (GBV) program for Syrian refugee women and girls in Jordan, Lebanon, Northern Syria and Iraq. Evaluating humanitarian responses to violence against women and girl (VAWG) presents unique challenges. GBV in humanitarian settings occurs within a myriad of other human relations that are severely affected by conflict. As traditional support networks collapse, thousands of people become more vulnerable to abuse. Studies of VAWG in humanitarian crises commonly highlight a spike in sexual and physical violence.
How do we isolate VAWG from the continuum of violence that characterizes daily life in refugee camps? Feminist approaches place VAWG within a wider social system of gender-based inequality and discrimination. It is important to examine how crisis contexts affect gender relations, where all individuals are at heightened risk of violence. Cultural and social restrictions affecting women and girls’ access to resources, mobility and decision-making opportunities can make them more vulnerable to specific forms of abuse.
Hot Tip: When collecting data, conduct separate meetings with women, men, girls, and boys to elicit the specific needs, challenges, and barriers to access to services and resources of each group. They also ensure that a diverse set of voices are heard and prevent more vocal members from dominating the dialogue.
Hot Tip: Ask concrete questions about how decisions are made. Numerical representations, such as 50% of community council/committee members are women, do not necessarily translate into real, substantive equality.
Humanitarian responses are extremely complex: they bring together hundreds of large and small organizations to respond to a rapidly dynamic situation within a “cluster” system. Clusters are organized around particular sectors, such as “health”, “shelter”, and “protection” and engage all actors working in that cluster. VAWG falls under the “protection” cluster. While intended to boost coordination and to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of humanitarian responses, the cluster system has also contributed to creating silos.
Lesson Learned: Working in silos undermines the ability of humanitarian actors to address VAWG comprehensively. The feminist approach ensures that VAWG is addressed by and across each cluster: from the layout of a refugee camp, to the location of water and sanitation facilities, the placement of light fixtures in public spaces, the distribution of food or non-food items; the confidentiality of an examination room in a local healthcare facility, the availability of emergency contraception. These factors can increase or decrease women’s risks to physical attacks, sexual exploitation, rape or harassment.
Resource: Guidelines for Integrating Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Actions (2015) provide detailed guidance for mainstreaming GBV prevention and mitigation in each cluster/sector.
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