Zainab (at right) fled with her family from Syria to Beirut. Initially in desperate straits, she found a way forward through a UN Women-assisted training programme that equipped her with skills to work in a beauty salon. Photo: UN Women/Nathan Beriro.

Zainab (at right) fled with her family from Syria to Beirut. Initially in desperate straits, she found a way forward through a UN Women-assisted training programme that equipped her with skills to work in a beauty salon. Photo: UN Women/Nathan Beriro.

Bridging the humanitarian-development divide

Humanitarian action

A storm, an earthquake, a conflict—crises disrupt lives and derail development, stalling progress on the global goals. Without a humanitarian lifeline, people may be pushed deeper into poverty and ill health, losing homes and means vital to livelihoods. Risks for women may be even more acute. They typically have fewer resources to survive and rebuild, and face increased threats of sexual violence. Yet when empowered, women are leaders on the road to recovery.  

UN Women heads a global drive to put women and gender equality at the centre of humanitarian action, including by implementing programmes that in 2016 served 120,000 women. 

UN Women’s work described below illustrates contributions especially to the Sustainable Development Goals on poverty, gender equality and inclusion.

Building resilience in the face of conflict

Zainab remembers arriving in Lebanon and feeling like a beggar as she struggled to make ends meet. Her days were haunted by longing for her home in Syria. But her life there was destroyed by conflict and the heartbreaking loss of one of her four sons, gunned down by a sniper.

More than


women and girls assisted
with humanitarian activities



safe spaces and
38 multi-purpose centres managed



women’s organizations supported
in humanitarian response
and resilience-building

Finding safe haven

UN Women undertakes similar work in Cameroon, which shelters people fleeing conflict in the Central African Republic as well as the terror of Boko Haram in neighbouring Nigeria and Cameroon itself. Through special centres for refugee and internally displaced women, UN Women has provided 1,000 women with psychosocial support and protection from gender-based violence. Business training and small grants spurred a flurry of food-processing, soap-making, sewing and other businesses, including among poor women in host communities surrounding refugee camps. Community outreach measures have sensitized more than 47,000 people about the risks of gender-based violence and how to respond when it occurs, resulting in a decline in early marriages.

Under the ‘Development Strategy for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment’, Japan has been steadily providing assistance to developing countries in priority areas such as promoting women and girls’ rights and advance women’s leadership in politics, economy and other public fields. In promoting these efforts, UN Women, a strong supporter of women’s empowerment in the world, is a reliable partner for Japan.

Fumio Kishida, Japan’s Minister for Foreign Affairs

Hastening recovery from disaster

Disasters can open space to challenge traditional gender norms. Women often emerge as community leaders, rallying their neighbours. They may take on traditionally male roles to clear debris or rebuild, as was the case after the powerful earthquake that shattered homes and buildings in Ecuador in 2016. Through a cash-for-work programme, UN Women trained women in masonry and construction work; soon they were rebuilding a social rehabilitation facility and a series of community centres. Thirty-five-year old Lucas Melo, for example, has grown comfortable in her hard hat and boots. She had never worked outside her home before the crisis. Today, her family depends on her income.

Lenche Zdravkin. Photo: Mirjana Nedeva.

Photo: Mirjana Nedeva

SDG 16: Peace, justice and strong institutionsSDG 10: Reduced inequalities

Lenche Zdravkin is a legend in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia for her work with the refugees. Her home in Veles is located just across the railway track, which thousands of refugees traversed at the beginning of the crisis, trying to reach a safe haven in Europe. Ms. Zdravkin helps refugees and migrants when they stop at her house by the railroad, providing food, water, clothes and other necessities. She also visits refugees in the transit centres of Tabanovce and Vinojug, where UN Women offers support to women and girls through its local partners. She collects and offers donations to support the refugees. Her work is directly linked to SDG 16, on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development. It also contributes to the target on facilitating safe migration of people under SDG 10.

Lenche Zdravkin: “My life has become simpler since the crisis. The entire perspective shifts”

“It took me only two days to realize who they were and why they were passing by my house by the railway track. I started making tea, boiling eggs and buying fruits to give them. But more refugees started coming—some days I would welcome 300 to 400 of them—so I started making bread. It was physically hard, until my husband bought me a dough mixer. I used to sit in my garden waiting for them. Sometimes I would go to bed at 9 p.m., sleep until midnight, and sit outside to wait again.

Ferdi from Syria passed through last year. He was over 6 feet tall. When I saw him on the tracks, he was wearing plastic slippers of size seven, much smaller than his feet. I dressed his wounds and made him coffee. Ferdi had left his wife and two children in Turkey, hoping to reach Holland and then bring them over. When he reached Holland, we stayed in touch. If he didn’t hear from us for a few days, he would get depressed. In April, we paid for the tickets for his wife and children to join him in Holland. When we told him, he couldn’t believe it. He said, ‘If she comes, I will marry her a second time, and you will be my godmother.’

My life has become simpler since the crisis. I don`t worry about the little things I used to…like, what detergent to buy …I have seen what it means for people to have nothing. I have seen children walking on stones, hungry. The entire perspective shifts.”

65 Million people currently displaced by violence | Half of them are women and girls