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 U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, the U.S. Department of State’s Plan to Implement the U.S. Strategy 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 U.S. Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls.
Throughout the world, we continue to see gender-based violence (GBV) and the threat of gender-based violence amplified when an emergency hits. 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 has long recognized the increased prevalence and risk of GBV, particularly targeted at women and girls, when disasters or conflicts strike. PRM is a leader within the humanitarian community on the protection of women and girls, including comprehensive GBV program implementation, and requires partners to submit a gender analysis and a protection from sexual exploitation and abuse action plan, and to address the needs of women and girls in their work to ensure better, more sustainable, and more impactful programs across the board.
The U.S. government implements its commitments to addressing GBV through our whole-of-government strategies. In addition to these policies, PRM works 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.
The following are the priority institutional investments that PRM makes to honor this commitment:
Safe From the Start ReVisioned
Safe from the Start ReVisioned demonstrates the United States’ commitment to advance a gender-transformative approach in humanitarian response that promotes women’s leadership and prioritizes support and advocacy for gender-based violence (GBV) prevention and survivor-centered response programming. It also shifts funding, influence, and decision-making power to women and girls, in all their diversity, within humanitarian response systems. ReVisioned emphasizes the importance of prioritizing the needs of women and girls from the very beginning of a crisis. It understands the power of positioning women as decision-makers at the center of the response.
Too often, GBV is recognized as a problem only after major response efforts are underway. Despite an existing set of global policies, best practices, and guidelines to prevent and respond to GBV in humanitarian settings, time and again international response efforts have fallen short of meeting established standards in emergencies. In 2013, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA) – then known as the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) – jointly developed the Safe from the Start initiative to mobilize the humanitarian community to take preventive measures and ensure quality services are available for survivors from the onset of an emergency or crisis.
Since its launch in 2013, the original initiative has galvanized a global recognition of GBV programming as an essential, life-saving intervention from the onset of every humanitarian response. Safe from the Start has directed substantial resources to prevent and respond to GBV. From Fiscal Year 2013-2022, the United States provided more than $192 million in funding toward Safe from the Start through the joint efforts of PRM and BHA. Data and insights collected across Safe from the Start programs have strengthened the collective knowledge of what works in GBV prevention and response programming, and have offered new guidance and tools for sector practitioners. In addition, Safe from the Start investments in major international humanitarian organizations addressed a critical gap in humanitarian emergencies by stimulating institutional change at the headquarters level. This institutional change has, in turn, led to increased capacity of these organizations, their local partners, and national staff to reduce or mitigate GBV risks and provide services for survivors.
In early 2021, BHA and PRM took stock of the significant progress made by Safe from the Start and developed a new more ambitious framework. The output – Safe from the Start ReVisioned – is an even bolder step forward.
The overarching goal of Safe from the Start ReVisioned is that all individuals, specifically women and girls, are free from all forms and threats of GBV in emergencies. Safe from the Start ReVisioned calls on the humanitarian community to not only add to, but improve, conventional humanitarian response. This new iteration further focuses on improving and expanding GBV prevention, risk mitigation, and response efforts and expertise – shifting power to crisis-affected women and girls and recognizing them as experts, providers, and leaders. To achieve this, Safe from the Start ReVisioned seeks to ensure that GBV prevention, mitigation, and response are prioritized, integrated, and coordinated across humanitarian responses globally, from the outset of all types of crises by focusing on the following objectives:
- Increase accountability to all women and girls in emergencies.
- Bring to scale effective GBV interventions at the field level – increasing the impact, number, and reach of quality, dedicated GBV prevention and response interventions in all types of emergencies.
- Amplify GBV expertise. Scale existing capacity of organizations to prioritize, design, staff, implement, and coordinate GBV prevention and response programming.
- Drive increased representation and leadership of women and girls, specifically women’s organizations, in decision-making structures and the delivery of humanitarian aid.
- Ensure all humanitarian actors prioritize concrete actions to mitigate GBV risks and address the rights and unique needs of all women and girls.
Safe from the Start ReVisioned is built on and aligned withU.S. Government policies and strategies, including the Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017, the U.S. Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security, the U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally, the U.S. Advancing Protection and Care of Children in Adversity Strategy and the National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality, as well as the advancement of sexual and reproductive health and rights in the Presidential Memorandum on Protecting Women and Girls at Home and Abroad. It is also aligned with the Call to Action on Protection from GBV in Emergencies (the “Call to Action”) newly released 2021-2025 Roadmap, the GBV Area of Responsibility (AoR) 2021-2025 Strategy, and the GBV Accountability Framework. Per the United States’ 2021 commitments to the Call to Action Roadmap, Safe from the Start ReVisioned advocates for the continued improvement and expansion of quality GBV prevention, risk mitigation, and response efforts built on the successes of the original Safe from the Start initiative.
Call to Action
An overarching priority for U.S. action is to build the capacity of the humanitarian system as a whole to collectively meet our goal, which was further advanced through our leadership of the Call to Action on Protection from Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies (Call to Action) in 2014, and continues to represent the U.S. commitment to the Call to Action today. We coordinate our efforts with other donors, affected countries, and stakeholders from outside government to maximize the impact of our Safe from the Start initiative, and its three mutually reinforcing objectives, in order to bridge the gap between policy and practice at the onset of emergencies: 1) Increasing dedicated GBV interventions; 2) Integrating GBV risk mitigation across all humanitarian sectors; and 3) Increasing accountability at the global level.
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.
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 PRM, together with USAID/BHA. For any queries about PRM’s work, please email: PRM-MCEGender&Youth@state.gov
 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.