Addressing Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies

U.S. Leadership to Address Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies

The empowerment and protection of women and girls has been a central part of U.S. foreign policy and national security, as shown by the launch of the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, implementation of the U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally, each backed by an Executive Order, and release of the United States Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity and U.S. Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls.

Throughout the world, we continue to see gender-based violence (GBV)[1] and the threat of gender-based violence amplified when an emergency hits. The U.S. government has long recognized the increased prevalence and risk of GBV, particularly targeted at women and girls, when disasters or conflicts strike. The State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) recognizes that promoting gender equality and addressing GBV is essential. We believe that one measure of the effectiveness of our assistance efforts is the protection and provision of services to women and girls. Since 2000, PRM has had set aside targeted funding for GBV prevention and response programming in humanitarian emergencies. PRM is a leader within the humanitarian community on the protection of women and girls, particularly comprehensive GBV program implementation, and requires partners to submit a gender analysis and address the needs of women and girls to ensure better, more sustainable, and more impactful programs across the board.

Gender equality, particularly GBV, is a critical issue and intricately linked to PRM’s strategic goals. As such, PRM provides funding and engages in policy discussions to advance our work in this area in humanitarian crises globally. The U.S. government implements its commitments to addressing GBV through our whole-of-government strategies. In addition to these policies, PRM works closely across the U.S. government as well as with our international organization (IO) and non-governmental organization (NGO) partners to lead and participate in key initiatives focused on improving accountability, coordination, and innovation in the humanitarian community.

Safe from the Start

Despite significant focus, attention, and investment in these issues over the last decade, gaps still exist in preventing and responding to GBV, particularly during the earliest, and often most critical, stages of an emergency. Too often, in times of crisis, GBV programming is not prioritized as life-saving. It is often addressed later in a crisis or disaster, after major response efforts are underway, and in reaction to the issue becoming so pervasive that it can no longer be ignored. This stymies our efforts to address GBV in a comprehensive manner, and to ensure that life-saving measures to protect those most vulnerable to GBV are integrated into an emergency from the start.

Date: 04/01/2014 Description: Graphic combining the logos of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development. State Dept and USAID ImageRecognizing these challenges, State/PRM, together with USAID/DCHA developed a framework for action in the spring of 2013 to analyze these challenges, identify solutions, and mobilize the humanitarian community to take concrete action. As a result of this framework, then-Secretary Kerry launched Safe from the Start in September 2013. Safe from the Start is a U.S. government initiative to reduce risk of GBV and ensure quality services for survivors through timely and effective humanitarian action. We seek to transform the international system for humanitarian response so that the needs of women, girls, and others affected by GBV are a priority in emergencies.

Consistent with the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, Safe from the Start complements and reinforces existing gender equality and protection policies and is a significant part of the U.S. government commitment to the Call to Action. It aims to:

(1) Increase the number and reach of quality, evidence-based, dedicated GBV prevention and response interventions in new and ongoing emergencies;

(2) Integrate GBV risk mitigation activities across all humanitarian assistance sectors; and,

(3) Strengthen accountability within the international humanitarian architecture for prioritizing GBV prevention and response.

Approximately $55 million is being channeled through this initiative since 2013 to build and strengthen the core capacity of humanitarian partners to address GBV from the earliest phases of an emergency. (See more on Safe from the Start)

Call to Action on Protection from Gender-based Violence in Emergencies

In 2013, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) launched what was originally called the Call to Action on Protecting Girls and Women in Emergencies (Call to Action) to mobilize donors, UN agencies, NGOs, and other stakeholders to protect women and girls in humanitarian emergencies. The Call to Action culminated in a high-level event, co-hosted by the U.K. and Sweden on November 13, 2013. That event produced a ground-breaking communiqué, in which donors and humanitarian agencies signed and committed to preventing violence against women and girls from the start of humanitarian emergencies.

The Call to Action is an important framework to help coordinate efforts with other donors, affected countries, and non-government stakeholders to maximize our impact and change the nature of how we respond to GBV in humanitarian crisis. From 2014-2015, the United States assumed leadership of the Call to Action. Then-Secretary Kerry hosted follow-on Call to Action events on September 22, 2014 and October 1, 2015 in New York during the UN General Assembly. The October 2015 event included the unveiling of the Call to Action Road Map which was developed under United States guidance and handover of Call to Action leadership to Sweden.

The United States remains actively involved in the Call to Action including by encouraging States and other organizations that did not sign the communiqué to join the initiative and make commitments in line with the Call to Action Road Map. A list of current Call to Action commitments, grouped by organization, is included here.

Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI)

In May 2012 then-U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague and the UN Special Envoy for the UN Refugee Agency, Angelina Jolie, launched the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative. Since the launch of PSVI, the U.K. has worked with many governments, the UN and other multilateral organizations, and a wide range of committed NGOs and civil society organizations to achieve greater global awareness of the scale of sexual violence in conflict and to promote changes in the international community’s perception and response to the issue. This culminated in the “Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict,” which the Foreign Secretary and a group of state-level PSVI “Champions” launched in coordination with the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, on the margins of the UN in September 2013. To date, more than 150 governments have endorsed this Declaration with the aim of ending the use of sexual violence in conflict.

The United States continues to engage in PSVI alongside a broader women, peace, and security agenda to highlight the dangerous and life-threatening issue of sexual violence in conflict among other forms of violence against women and girls. We work closely with the U.K. to ensure the Call to Action is aligned and coordinated with existing initiatives, including PSVI, to promote a coherent and comprehensive approach to ending GBV.

GBV Innovation

Each year, PRM allocates specific funding to complement ongoing efforts in our regional responses to address GBV. The funds are allocated to research institutions, IOs, and NGOs for innovation and learning in the field. This support has led to the development of new evidence-based programming, guidelines and tools, as well as capacity building initiatives that contribute to quality programming and sustainability. For more information about the programs being supported through PRM’s GBV innovation fund and to learn how to apply for future funding opportunities or receive funding opportunity announcements see FAQ’s.

We welcome your feedback and questions as we seek to establish a transparent and inclusive process to move this agenda forward. The focal points for Safe from the Start and the Call to Action are the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), together with USAID/OFDA. For any queries about PRM’s work, please email: PRM-MCEGender&Youth@state.gov


[1] Gender-based Violence (GBV) is an umbrella term for any harmful threat or act directed at an individual or group based on actual or perceived biological sex, gender identity and/or expression, sexual orientation, and/or lack of adherence to varying socially constructed norms around masculinity and femininity. It is rooted in structural gender inequalities, patriarchy, and power imbalances.