You would be hard pressed to find an aid worker that thought sexual violence was not an important issue. But ask them to define what it is, and you may leave them stumped.
Is it sexual violence, gender-based violence (GBV) or violence against
women and girls? And what about male victims? How do you address GBV in
patriarchal societies? And how do you balance collecting evidence-based
data with responding to victims and/or preventing incidents in the first
Researchers at the Humanitarian Practice Network (HPN) at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI)
in London have been thinking around these questions as part of a “Good
Practice Review” for tackling GBV in humanitarian contexts.
“We commissioned this work because we felt there was a gap,” explained
Wendy Fenton, HPN coordinator at the ODI’s Humanitarian Policy Group.
“When we started looking at the issue and talking to people we realized
that there wasn’t even agreement about what GBV programming or
prevention and response actually was. Even the terminology seems to be
They found a wide range of different concepts, terminologies and
priorities, and the researchers said that in spite of the major advances
in humanitarian and development programming, there was still a lack of
firm consensus about how to define, prevent and respond to GBV.
The HPN paper Preventing and responding to gender-based violence in humanitarian crises
authored by Rebecca Holmes and Dharini Bhuvanendra, was published last
month and will be presented this week at the 10th annual Dubai
International Humanitarian Aid & Development (DIHAD) conference, which focuses on women and aid.
Conference panelists will examine the role women play as essential
providers of assistance in humanitarian crises; the disproportionate
impact of conflict and disasters on women; and how aid is and should be
adapted to meet gender needs.
After evaluating the wide range of practice and policy approaches to GBV
and charting programming milestones and initiatives over the years, the
36-page HPN paper concludes that knowledge of GBV in emergencies was
It adds that owing to “deeply embedded cultural and social norms around
GBV, any intervention designed to address its causes, consequences and
effects can only work at the margins; bringing about real, meaningful
change will be a slow, long-term process, in which humanitarian response
can play only a small part.”
Cultural sensitivities can be one of the biggest hurdles in finding consensus about how to respond to GBV in emergencies.
Because of the hidden nature of GBV (including high rate of
underreporting of sexual and other forms of violence) as well as the
lack of GBV experts deployed in the early stages of emergencies to
assess GBV issues it's
often a challenge to counter this view [that GBV is not a critical
concern] until well after the emergency has subsided and data can be
more routinely collected.
Some humanitarian actors also maintain that responding to acts of GBV
(particularly those not directly related to conflict and displacement)
is the preserve of culture and therefore outside the scope of
Issues of sexual violence have rarely been far from the headlines
recently, led by high-profile gang rape cases in India, and other cases
in Kenya - and South Africa,
as well as reports of child marriage and sexual abuse among Syrians in
refugee camps, and the subsequent community action and celebrity-backed
campaigns attempting to target rape both domestically and in conflict settings.
In June the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) will host in London
a global summit on preventing sexual violence in conflict, while its
aid agency, the Department for International Development (DFID), has
allocated £35 million (US$57.7m) of funding to support campaigns to end
female genital mutilation/cutting.
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