16 actions for the safety of girls and women in emergencies

A lock. A light. A secure shelter. All three can prevent violence against girls and women in emergencies and provide a sense of security at a time of heightened vulnerability and stress.

Violence against women and girls does not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, culture, class or country. Worldwide, one in three women have experienced physical and/or sexual violenceand more than 15 million girls between the ages of 15 and 19 have been victims of rape.

Conflict and displacement only compound the problem. As girls and women lose their support systems and homes, are placed in precarious environments and new roles, their risk of gender-based violence (GBV), including sexual violence, intimate partner violence, child marriage , female genital mutilation and abuse, increases.

For International day for the elimination of violence against women and the following 16 days of activismhere are 16 actions UNICEF and partners are taking to increase the safety of girls and women in emergencies:

  1. Raise the voices of girls and women

More importantly, #HearMeToo. Women and girls should be central to all design and delivery.

  1. Connect to those who know, who care

When developing programs, ensure that local women’s and youth organizations are consulted and build on their best practices and evidence. And for the many men and boys who are champions for ending GBV, let’s work together.

  1. light the way

All shelters, latrines, water points and walkways within camps should have adequate lighting to reduce the risk of sexual violence.

  1. Don’t Apologize Women-Only Safe Spaces

Most public spaces in emergencies are dominated by men and boys. Women and girls need a place where they can feel safe, report gender-based violence confidentially, receive information and support, and build their social network and confidence.

  1. Make secure spaces mobile

The most vulnerable women, married adolescents, teenage mothers and women and girls with disabilities need services.

© UNICEF/UN0156999/BindraGetting a period in a crowded refugee camp is not easy for teenage girls and women. There is a lack of hygienic supplies for menstruation and access to safe and private toilets to wash themselves and their menstrual pads. Rohingya refugee girls take part in the UNICEF-supported Sanimart project to produce sanitary napkins for themselves and sell them at the market, Balukhali refugee camp, Cox’s Bazar district, Bangladesh.
  1. Establish a trusted partnership for case management

Case managers provide crucial support to GBV survivors, empowering them to assess their needs and develop a healing and recovery plan.

  1. Train frontline health workers

Frontline health workers should be trained to support GBV survivors, including skills in survivor-centered communication and clinical management of rape.

  1. Equip toilets with locks

All latrines and toilets should have locks to provide security for women and girls, and there should be separate facilities for men and women.

  1. Widen the circle of partnership

In addition to local civil society, engage governments, donors and private partners to find new ways to collaborate – including blended funding mechanisms – to deliver results at scale.

As a lead humanitarian actor, UNICEF works to prevent and end GBV by mitigating risk and providing life-saving services to survivors across the continuum from emergency to development.

  1. Build safe shelters

Women and girls often lack privacy in their shelter due to thin walls and close proximity to neighboring tents. Shelters should be built according to the design and needs that women and girls request for their safety.

  1. Provide hygiene kits

Women and girls have the right to manage their periods with privacy and dignity. WASH and hygiene kits, designed by women, with menstrual health products, soap, whistles and torches keep them safe and enable them to participate in school and other activities.

  1. Build referral systems

These provide a pathway for survivors to receive vital and confidential health care, as well as psychosocial and other support on their path to recovery.

  1. Provide age-appropriate sexual and reproductive health services

Access to clinical care for sexual assault, HIV and sexually transmitted disease testing and other health services should be accessible and adolescent friendly.

  1. Transmit life skills

Through life skills training, women and adolescent girls can be leaders and creative thinkers, engage in citizenship, and learn skills that can reduce their risk of gender-based violence.

A young woman greets another woman by shaking her hand at the door of a house while children are playing in the foreground.
© UNICEF/UN051271/HerwigChild protection worker Hala Abu Ghoush greets a woman and her children during an outreach visit to the family’s home in Za’atari Syrian refugee camp.
  1. Money in the hands of those who need it most

In severe cases where a woman or girl’s life is in danger, emergency cash can help facilitate immediate access to shelter and livelihoods.

  1. Women in WASH

Meaningful participation of women and girls in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) committees enables them to voice concerns about safety and privacy, as well as solutions to improve services.

As a lead humanitarian actor, UNICEF works to prevent and end GBV by mitigating risk and providing life-saving services to survivors across the continuum from emergency to development.

Last year, UNICEF assisted 3.6 million women and girls in humanitarian situations in 53 countries. However, we still have a long way to go to accelerate the reach of our problem-scale services. However, we still have a long way to go.

Patty Alleman is Senior Advisor, Gender Section, UNICEF. Catherine Poulton is the Child Protection Officer at UNICEF.

Mara R. Wilmoth