ActionAid is a global movement of people working together to further human rights and defeat poverty for all.

Women Must be Central to New Humanitarian Agenda: ActionAid

Istanbul, 23 May 2016: The international community has failed to recognise the significant contribution made by women leaders on the frontline of humanitarian crises and this must be prioritised and better resourced in the future humanitarian agenda, said ActionAid today at the brink of the World Humanitarian Summit.

“Despite the lack of support from conventional humanitarian programmes,” said Michelle Higelin, Co-Chair of ActionAid’s International Humanitarian Platform, “We’ve found that women are frequently first responders, working behind the scenes to care for the most vulnerable and support communities rebuild after crises.”

In a new report: ‘Women on the Frontline: Catalysing Women’s Leadership in Humanitarian Response’, ActionAid presents evidence on the undervalued role of women in crisis, along with a series of recommendations for world leaders in taking forward Agenda for Humanity.  Drawing on research in five crisis-affected countries, the report calls on the humanitarian system to ensure direct funding to women-led organisations to support their emergency preparedness and response activities.

Other recommendations include: scale up women’s training opportunities; commit to gender parity in representation structures at all levels; establish a UN mechanism that focuses explicitly on gender equality in humanitarian response; respond to the increased burden of women’s unpaid work during crises; commit to long-term support for women’s leadership capacity; improve gender and age disaggregated data; and prioritise protection from violence against women from the onset of an emergency.

“UN agencies and civil society actors have set an ambitious agenda for empowering women and girls in humanitarian action,” added Higelin. “However, to translate this into meaningful action, it will be critical to smash the barriers that obstruct women’s leadership in emergencies.”

‘This requires significant reform of an outdated humanitarian system in ways that shift the power to local actors and communities, and create new structures that will bring women more central to humanitarian decision making, including priorities for resource allocations.

“As international leaders check into their plush Istanbul hotels,” she remarked, “it is worth noting that there are few female faces among them as men dominate global humanitarian decision making. However, this is not the case on the real frontlines of humanitarian crisis, where women are represented in full yet continue to be denied access to resources and decision making. The international community cannot ignore that anymore.”

The ‘Women on the Frontline’ report will be discussed during the side event ‘WHS Delivers for Women and Girls’, co-hosted by ActionAid, Care International, Oxfam Canada and UN Women on Monday 23 May from 17:00 - 18:00  at the Galata Theatre.

To view the report in PDF and interactive formats, see: 


Editors' notes

Further information contact: Holly Miller +61432 781 294 or 

ActionAid is a global movement of people working together to further human rights for all and defeat poverty. We believe people in poverty have the power within them to create change for themselves, their families and communities. ActionAid is a catalyst for that change.