Gender-based violence in humanitarian settings

Resource date: Dec 2014

Author: UNFPA

Sexual violence is common in humanitarian settings. It may become more acute in the wake of a natural disaster, and it occurs at every stage of a conflict. The victims are usually women and adolescents, whose vulnerability is exacerbated in the chaos of a crisis. Being separated from one’s family and community, or undertaking certain roles, such as foraging for food or firewood, can put them at even greater risk of exploitation and abuse.

Breakdown in law and order mean that perpetrators often abuse with impunity. And in many conflicts, women’s bodies become battlegrounds, with rape used as a tactic to humiliate, dominate or disrupt social ties. Widespread sexual violence is also endemic in many post-conflict situations, where it can perpetuate a cycle of anxiety and fear that impedes recovery.

The impact of sexual violence can be devastating. Physical consequences include injuries, unwanted pregnancies, fistula and HIV. But reliable data about sexual violence in these situations is scarce.

UNFPA at work

UNFPA is spearheading efforts to determine the scope of the problem, and to address it at every level.

In Jordan, for example, an assessment revealed that most Syrian refugees did not know where to go or whom to contact for protection services. In collaboration with the International Medical Corps, UNFPA developed a map to identify services for survivors of gender-based violence.  UNFPA also developed five area-specific "service guides" that contain contact information of service providers. 

In South Darfur, Sudan, UNFPA works with religious leaders and other male advocates. UNFPA-supported trainings on gender-based violence have helped religious leaders educate their communities about women’s rights. Many use Islam as an entry point to these conversations. A few of these leaders have developed a local radio programme to address questions on gender-based violence from both a religious and legal perspective.

In June 2010, UNFPA organized and co-led a response to the heightened risk of gender-based violence during an inter-ethnic conflict in south Kyrgyzstan. In the area, gender-based violence was widely viewed as a “private” matter. Since then, under leadership of the Government, two crisis-affected towns have formed councils and developed action plans to prevent gender-based violence and to support survivors. Youth networks, including many young men, have been trained to prevent gender-based violence, challenge gender stereotypes and promote human rights. Local authorities, health workers, policemen, local government workers, social workers, and teachers say they no longer view gender-based violence as a private matter.

Since 2009, UNFPA has provided technical support to the Afghanistan Ministry of Interior and National Police Academy, helping to develop the capacity of the police to recognize and prevent violence against women. UNFPA developed a comprehensive course and manual to help integrate these efforts into police training programmes. The course covers: the causes and consequences of violence against women in Afghanistan; relevant Afghan and international laws; women’s rights in Islam; and how police should approach cases of violence against women.


UNFPA also works with partners to develop tools to help more effectively address gender-based violence in humanitarian contexts, including:

Gender-Based Violence Information Management System
Managing Gender-Based Violence Programmes in Emergencies – E-learning and E-learning Companion Guide 
Handbook for Coordinating Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings
Guide to Establishing Gender-Based Violence Standard Operating Procedures
WHO Ethical and Safety Recommendations for Researching, Documenting and Monitoring Sexual Violence in Emergencies
Guidelines for Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings
Clinical Management of Rape Survivors: Developing protocols for use with refugees and internally displaced persons

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