What follows today’s Safeguarding Summit? Ways forward on gender and safeguarding in humanitarian action

by 18th Oct 2018
“We as women will be able to break stereotypes around women’s roles and responsibilities” – Asma Abdullah, a humanitarian worker in Azraq camp, Jordan “We as women will be able to break stereotypes around women’s roles and responsibilities” – Asma Abdullah, a humanitarian worker in Azraq camp, Jordan

Co-authored by Ros MacVean, Safeguarding Coordinator, CARE International, and Howard Mollett, Senior Policy Advisor, CARE International UK: Today’s Summit on Safeguarding provides an important moment for international donors, UN agencies and humanitarian agencies working on the ground to outline their commitments on how to better protect both staff and members of the communities we aim to support from sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment.

New initiatives are underway to prevent cases of exploitation, harassment and abuse, as well as to better respond when such incidents occur. But, as the UK Parliament’s International Development Select Committee stated in a report on safeguarding this summer (explicitly cited in CARE’s submission to its inquiry on these issues):

“The best policies and procedures will not prevent abuse unless wider cultural issues of power imbalances, gender inequality and patriarchy are addressed.”

Their report goes on to suggest:

“whilst a structural gender imbalance persists within the sector, cultural change will be very difficult to achieve.”

Taking action to challenge power imbalances

CARE International believes that action on those challenges of power imbalance, gender inequality and patriarchy is absolutely critical. As CARE International UK’s Laurie Lee pointed out in a blog earlier this year, while the head offices of many aid organisations are staffed largely by women, in emergency contexts, humanitarian and security teams are largely dominated by men.

There are also certain risks unique to the aid sector. Female staff deployed to difficult environments face additional risks and managers need to identify, manage and prevent these risks. We also need to look at other factors of diversity, including issues of race and class. At today’s Summit, we host a stall in the exhibition space aimed at gathering views and feedback from participants on how to best to tackle these issues on an individual or collective basis.

Listen to women’s voices

Earlier this week, we joined a fascinating panel event at London School of Economics at which women’s rights activists, academics and practitioners shared their insights on ways forward. As one speaker put it:

“Many aid agencies have feminist staff, who know what the problems are and have practical suggestions on what needs to be done. They should be listened to.”

The UK Select Committee called on aid organisations to work towards “gender parity on boards, at senior management level, and throughout the workforce.” So what can be done?

Gender parity in the humanitarian sector

CARE, together with Action Aid, published a report last year – How can humanitarian organisations encourage more women in surge? – outlining steps required to address gender parity in the humanitarian sector.

At CARE, for example, we have made progress in our global roster of humanitarian staff who get deployed to different crises. Our standing Global Rapid Response Team is currently 11 women and 9 men, and our wider emergency roster split is 292 men (56%) and 228 women (44%). We are investing in efforts to build up gender parity at the national level, as well as to scale-up our partnerships with local women-led civil society groups and networks too.

So progress is possible and we can do more on this.

Safe spaces for people at risk

Beyond the question of gender parity in the staffing of humanitarian agencies, we also need to look at how to create meaningful and safe spaces and processes to which women and men, girls and boys, are able to turn if they feel exposed to a risk of exploitation or harassment.

Again there is no single or simple fix to this. We need to address the different factors that shape inclusion or exclusion anywhere, let alone in countries affected by natural disasters or conflict.

But we can and must do more.

One entry-point for this in the humanitarian sector could include the Grand Bargain process, which has a workstream to promote a so-called ‘Participation Revolution’ in crisis responses. Those same donors, UN agencies and NGOs that participated at today’s Safeguarding Summit need to follow-up through the Grand Bargain and related processes to ensure that accountability to affected populations (AAP) processes are more inclusive and responsive, not least for women in crisis-affected communities.

Efforts are underway through a ‘Friends of Gender’ group in the Grand Bargain to push for stronger annual reporting on gender; and this might include indicators on issues of organisational culture and programmatic approaches (which could provide real added value to the already existing efforts on humanitarian project-level gender marking).

Other ways of moving forward

Looking forward, one great opportunity on these issues is that several major donors endorsed the G7 Whistler Declaration on Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women and Girls in Humanitarian Action earlier this year. A follow-up event is planned in June 2019 to take stock of efforts to date and ways forward.

Another linked opportunity is the piloting of a new Inter-Agency Standing Committee ‘Gender Accountability Framework’, which is due to roll-out over the coming year. That Framework outlines a set of benchmarks at all levels of humanitarian response on gender, including issues like engagement of local women’s civil society groups in humanitarian action.

Donors, UN agencies and civil society should come together to identify priorities that they will take forward individually and collectively, and then highlight these at the G7 Whistler Declaration review in June next year.

As the UK Parliament report highlighted, policies and protocols can only go so far. If we are true to our values – working towards social justice and a world in which all people live in security and dignity – then the humanitarian sector as a whole must address deeper issues of gender and power. So our work on this doesn’t end with the Summit today.

This blog was co-authored by Ros MacVean, Safeguarding Coordinator, CARE International, and Howard Mollett, Senior Policy Advisor, CARE International UK.

Howard Mollett

I joined CARE in 2005, since then I’ve been lucky enough to work with our local teams and civil society partners in countries as diverse as Afghanistan, Sudan, DRC, Kosovo and most recently on the Syria regional response team. My current responsibilities include co-chairing our global network of policy specialists on gender in emergencies, with a colleague in Pakistan, and leading CARE’s advocacy in the UK on the Syrian conflict.

Over the years, I have also worked on innovative research and advocacy with country teams on conflict analysis, civil-military relations and humanitarian access. What has kept me with CARE is the organisation’s support to grassroots activists and its commitment to addressing gender in a serious way.

Prior to joining CARE, previous roles included research on human security and development at the Centre for Defence Studies; the facilitation of a network monitoring human rights implications of the ‘Global War on Terror’; support to European coordination of the Make Poverty History campaign; global coalition-building with the Our World Is Not For Sale coalition; research on trade policy; and support to a network of environmental and human rights CSOs in the Balkans.

One good thing I’ve read

Drown by Junot Diaz - short stories that offer a brilliant fictional lens on gender, class and migrant experiences in the USA.

Email: Mollett@careinternational.org

Twitter @HowardMollett