Northeastern Nigeria Call to Action sparks collective push to address gender-based violence in humanitarian response

13 August 2019
In Northeastern Nigeria, the Call to Action on Protection from Gender-based Violence in Emergencies is transforming the way humanitarian actors address this critical issue. © UNFPA Nigeria

In partnership with local actors and with support from the European Union’s Directorate General for Humanitarian Aid and Protection (DG ECHO), UNFPA is working through the Call to Action initiative to embed gender-based violence prevention and response in the humanitarian response to the crisis in northeastern Nigeria.

The Call to Action on Protection from Gender-based Violence in Emergencies, a global multi-stakeholder initiative, aims to transform the way humanitarian actors address this critical issue. 

The initiative’s ultimate goal is for every humanitarian operation, from the start, to include efforts to reduce the risks of gender-based violence, especially against women and girls, and to provide safe, comprehensive services for survivors. More broadly, it seeks to integrate gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls into all aspects of humanitarian action.

Launched in 2013 by the United Kingdom and Sweden, the initiative now has 72 members – including States, UN agencies, international organizations and NGOs – and its power lies in collective action and accountability. 

Led until mid-December 2018 by DG ECHO, the global-level initiative is now under Canada’s leadership. The pilot field-level implementation – the Call to Action Road Maps in northeastern Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – is funded by DG ECHO. 

A founding partner of the Call to Action, UNFPA is a longstanding leader in addressing gender-based violence in humanitarian settings, serving since 2016 as the lead agency (and co-chair since 2008) of the Gender-Based Violence Area of Responsibility of the Global Protection Cluster, which oversees the humanitarian community’s response to gender-based violence.

Northeastern Nigeria Call to Action partners convene at the mid-year review meeting, held 17-18 July 2018 in Maiduguri, Nigeria. © UNFPA Nigeria

The Road Map for northeastern Nigeria

With the crisis in northeastern Nigeria now in its tenth year, 7.1 million people in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states, including 3.9 million women and girls, are currently in need of humanitarian assistance. 

Amidst armed conflict, displacement and disrupted livelihoods, limited access to services and protection have exacerbated the risks of sexual and gender-based violence. According to a 2016 study, 6 out of 10 women affected by the crisis have experienced some form of gender-based violence.  

Launched in Maiduguri in July 2018, the Road Map for northeastern Nigeria works to strengthen coordination for a timely, accountable and holistic approach to gender-based violence that cuts across sectors; improve access to quality services for survivors; build local partners’ capacity; secure funding; and engage security actors to improve gender-based violence prevention and response.

With 39 partners, including local civil society organizations (CSOs), the Road Map is a living document developed in collaboration with the GBV sub-sector. It includes an operational framework to ensure that partners’ commitments translate into concrete action. 

“The Call to Action creates momentum for awareness and involvement to commit to implementing GBV interventions,” said Jolene Mullins, Country Director of the International Medical Corps of Nigeria, “not by ticking ‘activity completed’ but by ensuring that we fulfil our responsibilities to the people we serve with a lasting impact.”

Ultimately, the initiative’s success is measured by concrete improvements in the lives of survivors of gender-based violence as well as of those who are at risk. The initiative has worked to identify barriers to access to justice for survivors, with plans to address these holistically. It has also created greater awareness of the need to mitigate gender-based violence risks in sectors including health; water, sanitation and hygiene; shelter; and camp coordination and management.

Civil society partners during an awareness-raising and review session in Yobe State, Nigeria. © UNFPA Nigeria

Engaging local partners to ensure sustainability

Engaging civil society organizations has been a cornerstone of the initiative. In September 2018, the initiative held outreach and awareness-raising sessions with 72 CSOs, in partnership with CSO networks in all three states. 

“With the Call to Action,” said Ahmed Shehu, President of the Network of CSOs in Borno state, “the voices of CSOs are increasingly being heard, and more opportunities are opening up for CSOs to develop and be recognized.”

Going forward, the initiative will seek to strengthen information-sharing between humanitarian actors and donors to increase funding. To build national ownership and sustainability, it will focus on promoting deeper and broader engagement of Government and Nigerian non-governmental partners. And based on needs identified with CSO and government partners, it will develop a strategy to build the technical skills of humanitarian actors who deliver gender-based violence services.

The northeastern Nigeria Road Map is tailored to the challenges of the humanitarian response in the three affected states – but it holds potential for lessons learned that can be applied wherever crisis strikes, within the country and beyond. 

“For us in Nigeria,” said Anetu-Anne Aliu, Director of Gender and Women’s Affairs at Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Women’s Affairs, “the Call to Action is driving change in the Northeast with a huge potential to benefit other parts of the country, should there be any form of serious emergency.” 

Already, experience from Nigeria has informed the Road Map for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, launched this year.