Getting Out of Our Silos: Leveraging the Women, Peace & Security Agenda to Transform Humanitarian Action

Nov 15, 2017Articles

Pip Henty and Beth Eggleston reflect on the application of the women, peace and security agenda to non-conflict related humanitarian response.


This is the first in a series of guest blog articles written by WPS Coalition members in the lead up to the Civil Society and Government Women, Peace and Security Policy Dialogue. If you’d like to become a member of the Coalition, you can find more information and submit your application on our home page.

The fact that women and girls experience conflict differently from boys and men is made clear in the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda – but what about during a humanitarian response? How does the relief and recovery, and the protection pillars of the agenda support humanitarian action, and vice versa?

Protracted conflicts and natural disasters have significant impacts on entire communities and disproportionately on women and girls. 75% of people in need of humanitarian assistance are women and children.  Sexual and gender-based violence dramatically increases in a conflict context, with sexual violence against women increasingly employed as a systematic weapon of war The increased risk women and girls face is often a result of the breakdown of traditional structures that protect and support women, such as formal institutional structures, as well as the family unit.

The vision of many champions of the WPS agenda is a world in which gender equality, and the contributions and rights of diverse women and girls, are at the forefront of transforming approaches to peacebuilding.  Although all pillars of the WPS agenda are crucial to the full implementation of the agenda, the relief and recovery, and participation pillars are imperative in moving past the common discourse of the protection of women towards harnessing women as leaders in humanitarian response.

Relief and Recovery in humanitarian action

The WPS agenda calls for a strengthening of relief and recovery measures to address international crises through a gendered approach. This pillar aims to ensure a gender perspective is incorporated into all relief and recovery efforts to support the needs, and recognise and strengthen, the capacity of women and girls to engage in peacebuilding. Additionally, women and girls must be given the opportunity to participate in relief and recovery measures at all levels in humanitarian response.

One way of strengthening implementation of the WPS agenda is by exploring the alignment of other high-level global frameworks, and leveraging that alignment. For example, the World Humanitarian Summit’s core responsibilities include preventing and ending conflicts and leaving no one behind. This is directly related to developing solutions with and for people, including empowering women and girls. The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Guidelines for Integrating Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Interventions in Humanitarian Action assist humanitarian actors and communities to coordinate, plan, implement, monitor and evaluate essential actions for the prevention and mitigation of GBV across all aspects of humanitarian response. Also, investing in the linkages between humanitarian action and the Sustainable Development Goals can support WPS priorities.  Leveraging these frameworks enhances relief and recovery initiatives to appropriately respond to the needs of women and girls and can contribute to further implementation of the WPS agenda.

Women in Leadership – a Place at the Peace Table

The participation pillar refers to the full and equal participation and representation of women at all levels of decision making, including peace-processes, electoral processes (both candidates and voters), UN positions, and the broader social-political sphere.

Research conducted by Humanitarian Advisory Group found that the gendered leadership gap within humanitarian organisations directly impacts humanitarian outcomes. Having more women in decision-making and leadership positions will likely lead to improved gender considerations in programming and greater achievement of gender equity goals. It is imperative that women in leadership and decision-making roles are not just given tokenistic leadership positions that are then undermined due to social, cultural norms, and systemic discrimination.

To better ensure this happens, in 2000, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, specifically demanded greater representation and participation of women and gender issues at all levels. For example, there are various challenges that need to be overcome in Afghanistan for women to participate and engage in peace negotiations. Women are constrained, often by gendered social norms, with regard to areas they can travel and interaction. This gender restriction is also evident in the representation of women in the High Peace Council in Afghanistan, which consists of only nine women out of a total of seventy members. When women are represented and their voices are heard, it promotes a more inclusive, satisfactory and sustainable peace and security. Peace strategies and humanitarian response are otherwise not comprehensive when women are not represented, including the role they can play and the impact these strategies can have on women. 

The Risk of securitising the WPS agenda and impeding humanitarian action

The rise of countering/preventing violent extremism (CVE) efforts in many contexts where the humanitarian needs are significant – Myanmar, Syria and Yemen for example – results in a significant risk that both the WPS agenda and humanitarian action will be turned into security instruments. As a result, the CVE agenda may become the dominant priority at the expense of other security and humanitarian issues facing women. The current environment of militarisation, understood as the reliance on the use of force as the sole means of conflict resolution within many national security, political and social spheres, often results in the neglect of a gendered lens of experiences and voices.

Women’s rights and women’s rights organisations would be adversely impacted in many contexts where CVE attempts via military strategies and agendas seep into humanitarian work. A recent study found that measures to CVE have had both a direct and indirect impact on women’s rights organisations to seek, secure and access resources, including funding.  Additionally, this impacts on humanitarian organisations. For example, trust is built between humanitarian organisations, the affected population, and the group controlling the area where the humanitarian needs exist. The success of this trust is often based on the notion that humanitarians abide by the concept of neutrality, and are not acting on behalf of any political or military group. This is particularly true for the most vulnerable in a disaster, including women and children. The perception that women and children are at risk of radicalisation should not impact upon the priorities of humanitarian aid delivery in particular area.

If we want women to be at the centre of humanitarian efforts as well as peace building efforts, there needs to be a shift in thinking, including listening, talking, and engaging the women who are affected – and we must utilise all the tools, and their synergies, in order to make that happen.


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