The violence in the Central African Republic has caused large flows of refugees to Cameroon, among others. UN Women has worked to support the women affected by the crisis with financial and social assistance. Pictured: UN Women and their partner organizations' staff during a meeting for women in a refugee camp in Cameroon. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown. Source: Flickr.  


Girls and women are hit hardest by humanitarian crises

This year, more people than ever are affected by humanitarian crises. Women and girls are the ones most affected. With it, there are ways to support women and girls affected by crisis - for example through education and protection at the beginning of a crisis. 

This year is 360 one million people around the world in need of humanitarian aid due to war, famine, drought, floods and food shortages. That's a record number - just three years ago the same figure was 168 million people. As the number of people affected by crisis increases rapidly, it requires an understanding of how everyone are affected differently of crises.

"The Gender gap" (the gender gap, ed. note) in humanitarian crises shows how girls and women experience heightened risks due to migration and weakened safety nets. For example, the informal sector and the agricultural sector are affected mostly from crises, where women are usually overrepresented. Because of this, women are more vulnerable when economic crises occur. In conflict zones, young girls are particularly vulnerable. It is 90 percent more likely that they leave school than girls in conflict-free countries.

Generally speaking, it is the women who ensure that the family receives water, food and medical care. What often happens during humanitarian crises is that women and girls are exposed to violence - while they are responsible for caring for the family. Development magazine has, for example, previously written about how sexual violence increases in connection with conflict.

The world still has the same gender stereotypes

The stereotypical image of women has not changed in ten years, according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). In the UNDP study, it appears that half of the world's population believes that men are better politicians than women, and a quarter that violence against women in marriage is justifiable. This despite the fact that actors such as FN, Oxfam and Sida has highlighted how women and girls in particular are more vulnerable in crisis-affected areas.

Pedro Conceição, head of the UNDP Human Development Report Office, describes how until 2020 the positive trend in the Human Development Index (HDI) – which measures a population's health, level of education and standard of living – has been greatly disrupted as a result of the negative gender stereotypes.

- Everyone benefits from ensuring freedom and agency for women, says Conceição.

There are certain gender roles that are reflected or even reinforced in humanitarian crises, says Peter Brune, Secretary General at War Child Sweden. Photo: War Child Sweden.

The unchanged stereotypes of women also contribute to their sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) threatened in humanitarian crises. Peter Brune, Secretary General of War Child Sweden, says in an interview with Utvecklingsmagasinet that stress is also an aggravating factor for people in crisis.

- When people get stressed (...) they fall back into traditional patterns and rely more on family, more on traditional beliefs. It is completely natural, but one must not forget the perspective of rights.

Five ways to promote women and girls in crisis

There are ways to counter inequality in those affected by humanitarian crises. The Global Justice Organization Oxfam highlights five ways to integrate an equality perspective in humanitarian work. One of the most important parts of crisis management is to take into account the differences between men and women in vulnerable situations. For example, such an analysis of Syrian refugees in Lebanon yielded recommendations for how to reduce stress and improve integration in the new country. Other ways could also be to increase women's participation in decision-making processes, and that men's efforts for the family are strengthened. In addition, Oxfam believes that cooperation between humanitarian organizations must be strengthened. This is because gender equality is not a sector such as water or hygiene that is prioritized in crisis-affected areas. An equality perspective must therefore pervade the work within each sector and between the organisations.

It is important to take a comprehensive approach from the beginning of a crisis

Peter Brune also believes that there are methods to counteract the gender gap and to support crisis-affected women and girls in humanitarian crises. He emphasizes the importance of a comprehensive approach from the beginning of a crisis. This means not only providing girls and boys in crisis with food and tents, but also with education, shelter and psychosocial support. It is also important to listen to girls, because "the boys are heard more and get more attention".

- Otherwise you encapsulate it, and then it grows and the damage becomes much greater if we don't act early, says Brune.

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