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Women’s safety: standards in emergencies


16 Minimum Standards, prevent gender-based violence, respond to gender-based violence, emergencies, UNFPAHumanitarian actors have an ethical imperative to prevent and respond to gender-based violence.

Gender-based violence is a horrifying reality and human rights violation for women and girls globally.

‘Gender-based violence’ is an umbrella term for any harmful act that is perpetrated against a person’s will and that is based on socially ascribed i.e. gender differences between males and females.

It includes acts that inflict physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty.

These acts can occur in public or in private.

The term ‘GBV’ is most commonly used to underscore how systemic inequality between males and females, which exists in every society in the world, acts as a unifying and foundational characteristic of most forms of violence perpetrated against women and girls.

The term ‘gender-based violence’ also includes sexual violence committed with the explicit purpose of reinforcing gender inequitable norms of masculinity and femininity.

Under international human rights law, acts of GBV are considered violations, as articulated in international conventions, particularly the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Furthermore, the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women defines violence against women as ‘any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women’.

The Declaration emphasises that violence is ‘a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to the domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of the  full advancement of women’.

During emergencies, the risk of violence, exploitation and abuse is heightened. Humanitarian actors have an ethical imperative to prevent and respond to gender-based violence.

International humanitarian law has established protections for civilians, including women and girls, during times of conflict, and successive UN Security Council resolutions have specifically prohibited the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.

The prevention and mitigation of, and response to, GBV are classified as life-saving interventions in humanitarian settings.

And all agencies involved in humanitarian response have a responsibility to protect those affected by GBV.

This includes implementing programme interventions to reduce the risk of GBV, designing initiatives to promote community resilience to GBV, supporting survivors and other women and girls at risk to access care and support services, and strengthening local and national capacities (government, other authorities and civil society) to establish systems to prevent and respond to GBV in a sustainable manner.

A new resource – the result of inter-agency collaboration and extensive consultation with field-based GBV experts – has now been released by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) that presents 16 Minimum Standards for the prevention of and response to gender-based violence in emergencies.

As a whole, these 16 Minimum Standards define what agencies working on specialised gender-based violence programming need to achieve to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, and deliver multisectoral services.

The objective of the Minimum Standards is to establish a common understanding of what constitutes minimum prevention and response programming in emergencies.

‘Minimum’ means ‘of adequate quality’; for the purposes of this resource, adequate quality means (1) reflecting good practice and (2) not causing harm.

The 16 Minimum Standards are:

1 GBV GUIDING PRINCIPLES All aspects of GBV programming are survivor-centred to preserve and promote the confidentiality, safety, non-discrimination and respect for the choices, rights and dignity of women and girls, including GBV survivors.

2 WOMEN’S AND GIRLS’ PARTICIPATION AND EMPOWERMENT Women and girls are engaged as active partners and leaders in influencing the humanitarian sector to prevent GBV and support survivors’ access to quality services.

3 STAFF CARE AND SUPPORT GBV staff are recruited and trained to meet core competencies, and their safety and well-being are promoted.

4 HEALTH CARE FOR GBV SURVIVORS GBV survivors access quality, survivor-centred health care, including health services for sexual and intimate partner violence and other forms of GBV, and referrals to prevent and/or reduce the effects of violence.

5 PSYCHOSOCIAL SUPPORT Women and girls safely access quality, survivor-centred psychosocial support focused on healing, empowerment and recovery.

6 GBV CASE MANAGEMENT GBV survivors access appropriate, quality case management services including coordinated care and support to navigate available services.

7 REFERRAL SYSTEMS Referral systems are in place to connect GBV survivors to appropriate, quality, multisectoral services in a timely, safe and confidential manner.

8 WOMEN’S AND GIRLS’ SAFE SPACES Women and girls only safe spaces are available, accessible and provide quality services, information and activities that promote healing, well-being and empowerment.

9 SAFETY AND RISK MITIGATIONGBV actors advocate for and support the integration of GBV risk mitigation and survivor support across humanitarian sectors.

10 JUSTICE AND LEGAL AID Legal and justice actors support GBV survivors to access safe and survivor-centred legal services that protect their rights and promote their access to justice.

11 DIGNITY KITS, CASH AND VOUCHER ASSISTANCE Women and girls receive dignity kits, and/or cash and vouchers to reduce GBV risk and promote safety and dignity.

12 ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT AND LIVELIHOODS Women and adolescent girls access economic support as part of a multisectoral GBV response.

13 TRANSFORMING SYSTEMS AND SOCIAL NORMS GBV programming addresses harmful social norms and systemic gender inequality in a manner that is accountable to women and girls.

14 COLLECTION AND USE OF SURVIVOR DATA Survivor data are managed with survivors’ full informed consent for the purpose of improving service delivery, and are collected, stored, analysed and shared safely and ethically.

15 GBV COORDINATION Coordination results in timely, concrete action to mitigate risks, and prevent and respond to GBV.

16 ASSESSMENT, MONITORING AND EVALUATION Information collected ethically and safely is used to improve the quality of GBV programmes and accountability to women and girls.

Each Standard in this resource represents common agreement on what needs to be achieved for that specific programmatic element to be of adequate quality. The standards are universal; they are relevant for all emergency contexts.

To read the full paper, click here.

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