Integrating a gender perspective in international NGOs’ humanitarian Operations 1/2

January 07, 2021

Written by Aidalaye Diop 
Translated by Chloé Lusven

“Integrating a gender equality approach is evaluating the consequences of a planned action on both women and men, especially in legislation, policies or programs, in every sector and at every level. It is a strategy willing to incorporate women’s preoccupations and experiences as well as men’s in the elaboration, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programs in every field – political, economic and social – so that both women and men benefit from equal advantages and that inequality is put to an end. The ultimate goal is reaching gender equality1]Quote from the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in 1995, 4th United Nations conference, can be found here:  https://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing/pdf/BDPfA%20F.pdf  .”

Recognizing gender on a global scale

In 1997, the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)2]One of the six United Nations organs in charge of coordinating the economic and social works of the 14 UN specialized agencies, it acts at the core of the system for development by defining international norms and priorities in the economic, social, cultural, and health fields as well as human rights and fundamental liberties. put on its agenda the necessity to integrate a gender perspective in the concerted actions for development. This position accompanies the mandate of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action of 1995 during its fourth global conference on women aiming to bring together all interested parties in development policies and programs, more specifically the UN, its member states and civil society actors around common commitments to gender equality.  

Gradually, the attention shifts to relationships between men and women rather than only focusing on women3]IFD approach « Intégration des Femmes dans le Développement » of 1975-1985 it highlights the need to affect resources to the improvement of the woman’s condition through projects geared towards them based on the works of Ester Boserup, « La femme face au développement économique » (« The woman facing economic development ») which shows how important women’s work is but how women are also completely absent in the implementation of development policies.The inequalities in power relations prevent development and the full participation of women to the development process. A new mode of development is put on the table. Most of the strategies aim to identify the practical needs articulated by women and men, individually and together, and to shed a light on women’s strategic interests in order to avoid obstacles that prevent their flourishing and their lasting rights and liberties, as well as reinforcing women’s power and autonomy.

The process’ aim is no longer to simply develop projects towards women, but it grows to include all actions that affect both men and women. First and foremost, it is about analyzing and taking into account societal dynamics and every individual’s place in it. Indeed, the social, economic, cultural, environmental and political aspects of development are taken into account at the same level as gender specificities in order to reverse tendencies and direct policies to be more equalitarian. An analysis of roles and responsibilities traditionally assigned to men and women is made, as well as how they interact and the opportunities they are offered. This approach therefore places equality at the center of the analysis.   

In development contexts, and more specifically in humanitarian action, when lives are at stake and the aim is to lessen the sufferings of victims, a project is never neutral. The project can have an impact that is more or less harmful to the populations it targets depending on the way it is thought out and implemented. It has a social impact and often reflects the organization’s values and priorities. 

While today women’s importance in the implementation and efficiency of development policies and projects is no longer up for discussion, perfect gender equality has not yet been reached. First admitted and required by institutional sponsors, the gender-integrated approach has gradually been adopted by NGOs and is now seen as a cornerstone of development. Despite its importance, it is still pretty much invisible for humanitarians that put urgency and recovery before development. Because it is geared towards taking into account and answering the needs of vulnerable populations first, urgency assistance should take into account each sex’s specificities and needs based on their characteristics and personal situation in order to be efficient and to have a lasting impact. Lack of means and time often hinders humanitarian action, which ends up dealing with punctual actions whose effects stop as soon as the crew leaves. We will see in the first part of this article how gender can be compatible with humanitarian actions lead by NGOs. In the second part, we’ll talk about the conditions put in place by NGOs’ sponsors.  

Is gender compatible with humanitarian operations?

In principle, because of the necessity to integrate gender and the analysis of power structures in the process of decision-making and implementation of development policies, it seems that gender is inextricably linked to the notion of development and incompatible with humanitarian aid as “an urgency punctual aid put in place in a situation of exceptional crisis or a natural disaster4]Definition from the official website of l’Action Aide Humanitaire“. Its aim is to ensure assistance and protection to vulnerable people and to answer the needs of endangered populations. Humanitarian or emergency relief is therefore opposed to development aid. Humanitarian assistance aims to be punctual and not long-term in nature, since it answers a specific need by providing vital services.

Nevertheless, one should not neglect the impact crises have on individuals, societies and power structures. In a crisis situation, women’s, girls’, men’s and boys’ needs and interests vary, as well as their resources, abilities and coping strategies. Natural disasters, as well as other emergency situations, exacerbate violence and weaken means of protection, which is why integrating a gendered approach is essential in a humanitarian context. Experience has proven that efficient aid is only possible if it takes into account gender differences such as relationships, responsibilities and the work-sharing between men and women, boys and girls. Then, there is a real potential of transformative evolution that will arise from a situation of crisis.  

Preexisting inequalities mentioned above mean that women and girls are more likely to face negative consequences during a crisis. Moreover, women often find themselves in a new position as breadwinner because of being separated from or losing male family members. However, they cannot always access the resources or services given by humanitarian action because there is no assistance for childcare and getting resources such as food and water can be dangerous. They are more vulnerable and more exposed to violence and sexual exploitation when traditional society unravels and the roles are brutally redistributed. Consequently, women and girls are more likely to suffer from food insecurity in emergency contexts. 

In the case of refugee camps, women’s and girls’ exposure to multiple forms of violence increases dramatically, especially because overpopulation means resources are under strain. Moreover, camp systems also come with increased insecurity, lack of shelter and limited services. War and displacement also increase women’s and girls’ vulnerability to sexual violence with socially acceptable behaviors decreasing.

Therefore, when gender is to be taken into account in humanitarian action, it is mainly about analyzing, determining and recognizing different needs, abilities and contributions adapted to women, men, girls and boys in order to allow them to survive, but mainly to live in a dignified manner and in respect of their respective rights. This programming offers protection and allows relevant participation of all as well as access to assistance and auto sufficiency while guaranteeing evolution towards an inclusive society.

Gender analysis examines the impact of urgency on women, girls, men and boys and makes sure that humanitarian intervention answers their distinct needs and priorities. Today, this analysis is required by most sponsors. Indeed, they require the integration of a gender section in all contracts and compel NGOS to adopt it, making them prisoners of this conditionality. This analysis remains essential to planning, follow-up and evaluation of humanitarian action because it examines relationships between individuals based on their gender and age and respective roles, access to resources, control, decision-making, but also constraints on different groups.

Guided by an international push and the necessity for international cooperation actors to integrate gender problematics, NGOs, led by Coordination Sud5]National Coordination of French NGOs and international solidarity founded in 1994 and gathering more than 170 French NGOs. have step by step started to integrate gender in their action mechanisms, notably through internal trainings, with the integration of a gender approach in their operating, in development projects and raising awareness and development advocacy. They have tools and analytical frameworks ensuring a good and relevant monitoring of gender.

Even though they have to comply to principles of impartiality, universality and neutrality, NGOs have to adapt their analytical frameworks to improve the efficiency of humanitarian actions. While they are not at the root of major texts that gave gender its importance, they still rely on a strong enough documentary basis. By recognizing differences based on gender, activities can be better targeted in a logic of proportionality and humanism and every gender’s special needs in the interest of equality. Therefore, by combining this approach to the analysis of vulnerability according to humanitarian principles, NGOs can target groups for special measures.

The analysis of vulnerabilities and needs as a tool for integrating gender

In a context of emergency and humanitarian aid, the organization of missions has to take into account specificities and potential risks in each of them. To adopt a gendered perspective in humanitarian aid facilitates the comprehension of differences in vulnerability, in order to elaborate better interventions. This approach also contributes in convincing all those who are excluded, women and men, who will be more likely to participate if their vital needs are covered. Moreover, this approach also allows to ensure that the principle of non-discrimination is integrated in humanitarian programs, to adapt to changes in roles caused by the crisis without furthering existing inequalities. It is about an optimal transition between humanitarian aid and development.

Nevertheless, if vulnerability and individuals needs seem to be a major point in planning humanitarian aid, it can be negative to not include a gendered perspective. When the differences and needs unique to men and women are not identified, aid is biased. Indeed, even if there is temporary relief, gender equality is not reached. There have to be results and follow-ups in order for projects to give space for transformations in power dynamics and make room for better equality.

With these principles integrated, the gender approach allows to make a comparative analysis between genders and understand differences in vulnerability.

Nowadays, despite recognizing the necessity of integrating a gender approach in identifying specific needs by gender, humanitarian organizations still brandish the impartiality and non-discrimination card by saying they only care about individuals’ vulnerability. However, when the relational and interactive variable between men and women is not taken into account, the analysis of vulnerabilities is altered and the intervention biased. 

Often, when a disaster or conflict arises, emergency takes precedent and humanitarian actors act quickly. Nevertheless, a risk inherent to reactivity is that often, the humanitarian aid brought relegate to the back sensitive information of context and vulnerability that could affect its efficiency. By sensitive information, we mean giving attention to gender-specific questions and criteria of vulnerability. Taking into account gender-specific needs is recognizing that in a humanitarian context, women’s, men’s, girls’ and boys’ specific needs are different and that their participation to emergency relief and rehabilitation programs are too. By not taking into account the differences, their protection and survival can suffer.   

It is therefore necessary to implement an analysis of the needs and risk management by taking this information into account. From an operational point of view, this approach allows to focus on the number of beneficiaries (men and women) that an organization can reach through humanitarian action. Gender equality can be geared through quotas to ensure maximum representation given the number of beneficiaries.

Individuals have different needs, that can be put in two categories: “practical” needs6]Immediate survival needs often associated to gender specific social roles, but also food, shelter, water and safety needs; genders immediate condition. and “strategic” needs7]An individual’s ability to control their life, resources, ownership rights, political participation; relative position of each gender and aim to solve gender inequality. An efficient humanitarian intervention relies on a strict and clear identification of these types of needs, especially when traditional systems are overthrown (loss of means of subsistence and changes in social roles) and can either confirm traditional gender roles or contribute to a better gender equality. 

In the same way, the concepts of protection and vulnerability8]Basic criteria for the allocation of resources, it is inscribed in a dynamic approach relating to risky or uncertain situations for the subject’s future, it appreciates resilience which is the ability for an individual to take the shock and get over it. of people need to be placed front and center of the approach for their needs to be fulfilled. This way, individuals or groups of individuals considered the most vulnerable are the ones considered more in need of emergency relief. An emphasis has to be put on these individuals in terms of specific assistance and protection.

The main criteria of vulnerability are as follows:

  • Households where the head of the family is a woman;
  • Households where the head of the family is a person aged 60 or more;
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women in the household;
  • Number of kids under the age of 5;
  • People living with a disability or chronic disease;
  • Households and/or people with low income;
  • Displaced status.

Gender is therefore perceived as a dimension of individuals’ vulnerability and finds its legitimacy in the approach by needs, where there is a necessity to adopt a gender-specific ventilation at every step of the project cycle to ensure the efficiency of a humanitarian program.

 

Conclusion

The advantage of the needs approach is that it directly tackles gender differences in the access to goods and services.

However, the neutrality principle adopted by most humanitarian organizations can be a hindrance to identifying obstacles to gender equality. Indeed, NGOs cannot act on power dynamics between genders that create differences in the access to resources. Projects can be set up on short term in order to reduce gaps and redress the balance but what are the long-term impacts? The orientated approach towards needs presents itself as an optimal base of analysis. However, it is not enough to guarantee the efficiency of a humanitarian action.

Even though gender is now used by all organizations, governmental or not, NGOs do not have a clear framework except for some directives and recommendations presented at forums such as IASC9]Inter Agency Standing Committee founded in 1992 to reinforce humanitarian aid by improving how relief is brought to the targeted populations., in the SPHERE manual10]Presents minimum standards (key actions, key indicateors and orientation notes) and protection principles of intervention and the humanitarian charter of Project Sphere. Created in 1997 by a group of NGOs and the international movement of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent. and in debates, discussions and texts established on the international scene. They get inspired by those to identify needs, abilities, and women, girls, men and boys’ specific priorities and to inform them of their rights and resources available and including women in the conception of programs. NGOs are mainly funded by institutional sponsors and therefore their hands are often tied and they are subjected to their political agenda. Moreover, sponsors often ask for in-depth approaches, gender expertise, results and practical implementation of projects they want to achieve, but do not provide organizations with the means to reach these goals. While needing to include gender has become prevalent in humanitarian aid, it is interesting to evaluate the impact the sponsors’ conditionality has on NGOs’ agenda, particularly when they get caught in political debates instead of having an independent and assumed will to develop a personalized gender framework that is their own. So, in the second part of this article, we will present and analyze in what measure do NGOs integrate gender in their actions and in their agenda.

References   [ + ]

1. Quote from the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in 1995, 4th United Nations conference, can be found here:  https://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing/pdf/BDPfA%20F.pdf  
2. One of the six United Nations organs in charge of coordinating the economic and social works of the 14 UN specialized agencies, it acts at the core of the system for development by defining international norms and priorities in the economic, social, cultural, and health fields as well as human rights and fundamental liberties.
3. IFD approach « Intégration des Femmes dans le Développement » of 1975-1985 it highlights the need to affect resources to the improvement of the woman’s condition through projects geared towards them based on the works of Ester Boserup, « La femme face au développement économique » (« The woman facing economic development ») which shows how important women’s work is but how women are also completely absent in the implementation of development policies.
4. Definition from the official website of l’Action Aide Humanitaire
5. National Coordination of French NGOs and international solidarity founded in 1994 and gathering more than 170 French NGOs.
6. Immediate survival needs often associated to gender specific social roles, but also food, shelter, water and safety needs; genders immediate condition.
7. An individual’s ability to control their life, resources, ownership rights, political participation; relative position of each gender and aim to solve gender inequality
8. Basic criteria for the allocation of resources, it is inscribed in a dynamic approach relating to risky or uncertain situations for the subject’s future, it appreciates resilience which is the ability for an individual to take the shock and get over it.
9. Inter Agency Standing Committee founded in 1992 to reinforce humanitarian aid by improving how relief is brought to the targeted populations.
10. Presents minimum standards (key actions, key indicateors and orientation notes) and protection principles of intervention and the humanitarian charter of Project Sphere. Created in 1997 by a group of NGOs and the international movement of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent.

Retrouvez la deuxième partie de cet article ici

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To quote this article: Aidalaye DIOP, “Integrating a gender perspective in international NGOs’ humanitarian Operations 1/2 “, 01.07.2021, Gender Institute in Geopolitics

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