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On The Frontline: Catalysing Women's Leadership in Humanitarian Action

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ActionAid has produced this paper On the Frontline: Catalyzing Women's Leadership in Humanitarian Action to ensure commitments arising from the World Humanitarian Summit are grounded in the realities of women affected by humanitarian crises and reflect their priorities. This paper draws together findings from focus group discussions with women from multiple regions and draws upon ActionAid’s experience from a range of humanitarian contexts, including rapid and slow onset disasters and protracted crisis. It presents the barriers and opportunities for women’s leadership in humanitarian response as identified by women from Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Nepal, occupied Palestinian territory (Gaza), the Philippines and Vanuatu. This data is overlayed with available evidence to validate the findings and demonstrate their applicability across diverse contexts.

Download a PDF of the report here or take a look at the interactive version below. 

The World Humanitarian Summit in 2016 provides a unique opportunity for governments, UN agencies and civil society actors to set an ambitious agenda for empowering women and girls as change agents and leaders in humanitarian action and ensuring gender responsive humanitarian programming. However for these commitments to translate into meaningful action, it is critical to respond to the barriers that currently impact women’s leadership in emergencies, and build upon the existing efforts of women first responders and women-led organisations.

The research from this report confirms that women bring invaluable contextual knowledge, skills, resources and experiences to emergency preparedness, response and resilience building, contributing to the emerging evidence base that women’s leadership contributes to better disaster preparedness and risk reduction; more efficient and effective humanitarian response; and inclusive and sustainable peace building and conflict resolution in communities.

However, consistent with the findings of ActionAid’s South Asian Women’s Resilience Index the conceptualisation of women as victims of disasters, alongside other barriers, has precluded them from being considered as active agents in humanitarian action and fulfilment of their right to equal participation. Women report experiencing numerous socio-cultural and economic barriers to exercising their agency and leadership in humanitarian crises. These barriers include patriarchal gender attitudes and norms that restrict women’s participation in public space and undermine their contribution as leaders; women’s burden of unpaid work; a lack of experience and opportunities to participate in leadership and exclusion from emergency response decision-making structures; low self-confidence; poverty and access to resources; and low levels of education and literacy.

Based on the direct input from women in disaster and conflict affected communities across five countries, ActionAid proposes the following recommendations for governments, UN agencies and civil society actors in taking forward commitments under the United Nations Secretary General’s Agenda for Humanity focused on empowering women and girls:

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