Gender and emergencies
Humanitarian emergencies caused by war or natural disaster have profoundly different impacts on women and girls as well as on boys and men. Existing gender inequalities may be exacerbated while changing gender roles in times of crises can also create new or additional disparities.
Humanitarian response, if it is not based on an awareness of the gender relations in a particular location, can similarly compound those inequalities, which may lead to unequal access to resources, support services and protection from gender-based violence and sexual exploitation and abuse.
Many countries in the Eastern and Southern Africa region (ESAR) are exposed to recurrent emergencies caused by natural disasters such as cyclones, floods and droughts, conflict and displacement, as well as HIV/AIDS and other epidemics. In 2009 alone, 11 of the region’s 20 countries experienced an emergency situation requiring humanitarian relief.
During conflicts and wars, men typically account for the largest number of combatants, while women and children comprise the largest section of civilians affected. Up to 80 percent of internally displaced persons and refugees around the world are women and children.
In ESAR the number of conflicts and complex emergencies has decreased in recent years with the end of civil wars in Angola, Uganda and Burundi. However, the changing nature of conflict has created new trends in emergencies in the region, including civil unrest, ethnic tension, and post-election violence leading to an increase in political instability in countries such as Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Kenya and South Africa.
Sexual violence: When conflict, civil unrest or natural calamities disrupt societies’ traditional protection systems, women and children are more vulnerable to abuse, rape or sexual exploitation. Examples in ESAR include increased incidence of sexual and gender-based violence during Kenya' and Zimbabwe's recent political crises.
During the post-election violence in Kenya, for example, that erupted in December 2007 and left more than 1000 people killed, sexual and gender-based violence was widespread.
In countries that have been impacted by the Lord’s Resistance Army, children have been abducted and forced to live with fighting forces, with many girls being exploited as sex and domestic slaves.
Humanitarian interventions: Social norms, discriminatory practices in registration and lack of information regarding benefits can contribute to gender inequality in the course of aid distribution. Experience in the region has shown that humanitarian interventions that radically alter gender roles in emergencies through, for example, giving women greater control over food distribution, may lead to unexpected negative consequences, including increased gender-based violence.
This effect has been noted by World Food Programme (WFP) research in northern Uganda, where women experienced an increase in domestic violence after being given control of relief food. Therefore, gender dynamics within households must be taken into account in situations of displacement when food aid and other relief items are distributed. This includes men’s and women’s ability to access and equitably distribute relief items within households.
In 2005, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) agreed to implement a cluster approach to improve the predictability and quality of humanitarian coordination. UNICEF is the coordinating agency for the nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene, and education (jointly with Save the Children) clusters as well for the child protection and gender-based violence sub-cluster areas. Gender is recognized as an important cross-cutting issue within clusters, and a human rights approach guides and underpins all phases of humanitarian programming. The cluster system is now operational in eight emergency-affected countries in ESAR.
Following the eruption of political violence in Kenya 2007/2008, UNICEF took a prominent role in making acts of gender-based violence public and addressing them as co-leader of the sub-cluster on gender-based violence and child protection.
In Zimbabwe, UNICEF together with other partners supported an assessment of gender-based violence during post election unrest in 2008. This led to greater donor attention and eventually disbursement of funds to support multi-sectoral services and support for survivors.
During and after an emergency UNICEF’s focus is on meeting the basic needs of women and children, protecting their fundamental rights and preventing human rights violations. As UNICEF’s mandate is to ensure that emergency preparedness and response to disasters is undertaken in a gender-equal manner, all emergency preparedness and response training in the region includes integration of gender issues and analysis.
UNICEF has also been participating in a global project addressing gender equality in humanitarian action, with Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya as pilot countries in 2008/9. In Kenya, for example, UNICEF undertook an in-depth gender analysis of the emergency response during the 2007/2008 post-election violence. The relief goods distributed were found to not adequately address the needs of children and women. Following substantial consultations with humanitarian partners and participation by male and female beneficiaries, UNICEF developed a more gender- and culturally-sensitive relief package, which included among other things kangas for women, and additional blankets, jerry cans, cooking utensils and soap.
The GenCap roster of technical expertise for deployment in a range of emergency settings is a recently developed tool for ensuring greater attention to gender equality in humanitarian action. A number of UNICEF Country Offices have deployed GenCaps in emergency situations in recent years, including Somalia, Kenya, and Zimbabwe. UNICEF has partnered with other humanitarian agencies in Southern Africa in 2010 to deploy a regional GenCap to support countries recently affected by crises, which are lacking capacity in emergency response. Support for addressing gender equality in an emergency is thus being provided in Madagascar, Comoros, Zambia, South Africa and Namibia.