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, 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[1]) 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 (see FY2018 fact sheet here) 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, particularly comprehensive GBV program implementation, and requires partners to submit a gender analysis, 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 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.

The following are the priority institutional investments that PRM makes to honor this commitment:

Safe from the Start

Safe from the Start is an initiative that complements and reinforces existing gender and protection policies by dedicating new resources and providing leadership to better address the needs of women and girls and other groups at risk of GBV in emergencies. Safe from the Start recognizes that 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. Too often, GBV is recognized as a problem only after major response efforts are underway. Safe from the Start is intended to help the humanitarian community take preventive measures and ensure that quality services are available for survivors from the onset of an emergency or crisis.

To achieve this, the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM), together with USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance (DCHA) developed a framework for action in the spring of 2013 to analyze these challenges, identify solutions, and help mobilize the humanitarian community to take concrete action. As a result of this framework, Safe from the Start was launched in September 2013.

The goal of Safe from the Start is:

To reduce the incidence of GBV and ensure quality services for survivors from the very onset of emergencies through timely and effective humanitarian action.

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 Women and Girls 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.

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.

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.

U.S. Department of State

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