Photo: UN Women/Emma Vincent

Taking action to meet women’s humanitarian needs

Eighty million people required humanitarian assistance in 2014; over 75 per cent were women and children. Yet humanitarian action does not always factor in women’s specific needs and vulnerabilities—even as women frequently take the lead in responding to crises. In 2014, UN Women coordinated efforts to improve the gender responsiveness of relief efforts. We deployed expert gender advisors in 10 countries and aided 20 countries in embedding gender equality principles across humanitarian plans and policies.

Responding to crisis

Women were on the front lines of West Africa's Ebola crisis. From the earliest days, in cramped medical wards and rudimentary rural dwellings, they cared for dying patients and family members, witnessing extreme suffering. They soothed traumatized children, even as they mourned their own losses, and organized the rites to bury the dead. A disproportionate number caught the deadly virus themselves.

Women [need] to be seen as catalytic stakeholders and agents of change which makes them well-suited to lead the way in driving Ebola out of Sierra Leone.

Mary Okumu, UN Women Representative in Sierra Leone, at the launch of the "Getting Ebola to Zero and Staying Zero" campaign, May 2015
Women in the Dabaab refugee camp attend trainings on business management and horticulture agriculture implemented by UN Women Kenya and the Kenya Red Cross to start businesses. (Photo: UN Women/Tabitha Icuga.)

Assisting refugees

In northeastern Kenya, the sprawling Dadaab complex is the world's largest refugee camp. Set up in 1991 after the start of civil war in Somalia, it is still a destination for Somalis fleeing drought and military action against extremist groups; half are women.

Marobe Market House re-opens. Once the official proceedings were over, those gathered got down to business—selling and buying produce that is in short supply after Cyclone Pam. (Photo: UN Women/Ellie van Baaren.)

Natural Disasters

The Pacific is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to disasters linked to climate change. In the aftermath, displacement, stress and inadequate shelter can contribute to increased rates of rape and domestic violence. UN Women has collaborated with the Fiji Red Cross Society to keep women safe from more than storms.

“We are all suffering. But we are gathered here to help others.”

Pragita Tuladhar and Nirjala Pokhrel: Despite losses, women activists lead relief efforts

Nepal's 2015 earthquake shattered buildings and lives. But it did not destroy the courage of women who have stepped forward to help.

"My home and farm are completely damaged," recounts Nirjala Pokhrel, a volunteer from Pourakhi, a women's group normally active on the rights of women migrants. "So many women are affected. As a woman survivor, I understand their needs."

"We are all suffering," adds Pragita Tuladhar (photo), a volunteer from a women workers' organization, SABAH. "But we are gathered here to help others."

Disasters take a heavy toll on women. They can be more vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence. Social norms, lack of information and burdensome household chores can render them last in line for help they desperately need.

Backed by UN Women, women's groups in Nepal have mobilized to put women at the forefront of relief efforts. They have helped distribute dignity kits and extend trauma counseling and psychosocial support, and led a strong collective call, through a Common Charter of Demands, for all forms of humanitarian action to meet women's specific needs.