Amplifying the Voices of Women and Girls in Humanitarian Settings

Photo By: P.Biro/IRC
A #16Days Conversation with Women’s Protection and Empowerment Field Staff

By Janine Kossen, Senior Policy & Advocacy Officer, Women’s Protection & Empowerment at IRC

Although women and girls are uniquely impacted by conflict and disaster in ways that men are not, their voices are rarely heard and their faces are rarely seen in the media or in the humanitarian aid community. They are not only overlooked, but often outright ignored as gender-based violence (GBV) is often cited as an inevitable by-product of war and, therefore, too intractable to warrant urgent attention from the humanitarian community during an acute emergency. Local women’s organizations, in particular, have been working to prevent and respond to GBV for decades. Yet, just 0.4% of all funding to fragile states went to women’s groups from 2012–2013, despite the fact that recent research has proven that grassroots women’s rights organizations are the single most effective way to combat violence against women and girls — more important than gross domestic product, the number of elected female representatives, or level of education.

In honor of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violencecampaign, we have been shedding light on these issues through a series of conversations with local women’s protection and empowerment experts who are working for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in some of the most challenging humanitarian contexts. Through their participation in exchange visits in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp, as well as regional workshops and trainings, they’ve created a sisterhood of support to learn from each other and improve programming in their respective countries. These gatherings have provided a unique opportunity for staff in the Horn and East Africa to interact and share experiences with different aspects of GBV prevention and response, leading to enhanced cross-border learning, capacity-building, and leadership development.

Part 1 of this three-part conversation series focuses on GBV prevention programs and strategies. Part 2 focuses on adolescent girls. This third and final conversation focuses on the importance of women-led initiatives and partnerships, with expert contributions from national female staff Margaret (South Sudan) and Muna (Somalia). Responses have been edited for clarity and length.

Why are the voices of women and girls important in designing, implementing and evaluating GBV programming?

Margaret: In most cases, you find that the voices of women are not heard because there are so few programs that are targeted and focused on women. They never have the opportunity to speak on issues that affect them unless we open up that space and give them the opportunity to do so.

Muna: When working in a context that is male-dominant and in a country that is male-dominant like Somalia, women’s issues are not heard, not solved, and not taken up to the State level. We need women and girls to be empowered so that they can speak out about the issues affecting them, and know that with support, they can advocate for themselves.

How are you reaching out to women and girls either through the beneficiaries you’re working with or local women-led organizations?

Margaret: IRC South Sudan began working with women-led civil society organizations to build their capacity and help them identify priority issues that were affecting women in their communities so that they could advocate even at the highest government levels. It’s not just at the national level though; in our field sites, we also identify women leaders from the blocks to work with and build their capacity. In Ajuong Thok, for example, the food ration was reduced, which led to increased domestic violence. I worked with the women to develop an advocacy brief that they used in discussions with UNHCR [the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], which ultimately resulted in a restoration of the previous food ration levels. So, you can see that when we give them the opportunity, when we build their capacity, they are able to speak on the issues that affect them, not only on behalf of one individual woman, but they speak for the rest of the women.


“When we give them the opportunity, when we build their capacity, they are able to speak on the issues that affect them, not only on behalf of one individual woman, but they speak for the rest of the women.”

Muna: For IRC Somalia, since the start of Women’s Protection and Empowerment (WPE) programs, we have been closely working with women-led local partners to reach out to women and girls in the wider community. We have been closely building their capacity and providing them local partnership funding to do their work. We have also been working closely with Ministries and women community leaders to build their capacity to do advocacy campaigns. This helps women in the community to take on their own initiatives as well as ownership of the WPE programming to advocate and empower other women.

This blog was originially published on Read it in its entirety here