ICRW launches new policy brief on preventing violence in emergency settings

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Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

In collaboration with the U.S. Civil Society Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, ICRW recently launched a new policy brief, highlighting the U.S. government obligations (including under the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security) to prevent and respond to gender-based violence in emergency settings—i.e., in cases of war, conflict and natural disasters. The brief also contains recommendations for actions that the United States government can take to prevent and end all forms of violence for women in humanitarian emergencies.

The policy brief was released at an event hosted at the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW),  where panelists from civil society, the U.S. State Department and the Swedish Government discussed the Call to Action to Prevent Gender-based Violence in Emergencies and the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.

Recent estimates indicate that 25 percent of women face some form of gender-based violence in emergency settings. Gender-based violence (GBV)  is defined by the U.S. government in the U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally as: “violence that is directed at an individual based on his or her biological sex, gender identity, or perceived adherence to socially defined norms of masculinity and femininity. It includes physical, sexual, and psychological abuse; threats; coercion; arbitrary deprivation of liberty; and economic deprivation, whether occurring in public or private life.”

In conflict and crisis settings, women and girls face numerous forms of violence. While sexual violence is often the focus of media reports and donor discussions, women and girls also face violence at the hands of intimate partners, community members and armed actors—everyone from militants and soldiers to the peacekeepers charged with keeping civilians safe. Additionally, in countries like Syria, recent reports show there has been an uptick of child, early and forced marriage and human trafficking, as many women and girls attempt to flee conflicts or humanitarian disasters and are instead trafficked for sex or labor, or into marriage without their consent, often by well-intentioned family members who think early marriage will be the safest possible outcome for vulnerable girls.

The United States Congress has appropriated $150 million dollars annually from fiscal year 2013-2016 to prevent and respond to gender-based violence. As a new U.S. Administration considers its budget requests for the next fiscal year, this brief outlines the importance of continued investment to protect girls and women in times of crisis.

The brief contains information on the various forms of violence associated with conflicts and crises and provides an analysis of relevant U.S. foreign policy responses and investments to that violence. The brief’s recommendations for further action to ensure that women and girls are safe from the onset and throughout any crisis include:

  • Strengthening accountability in international systems by working together with other governments, international organizations and NGOs to ensure that commitments under the Call to Action and in other processes are implemented, evaluated and that successful programs are scaled;
  • Strengthening partnerships with civil society and women’s groups to address GBV, as groups who already understand the local context are often best-positioned to provide immediate and appropriate assistance; and
  • Funding to adequately address GBV in emergencies should be reflected in Congressional Appropriations and Presidential Budget Requests.

“This policy brief should correct the myth that the only—or even the most common—form of violence women and girls face in emergencies is rape as a weapon of war,” said Lyric Thompson, Director of Policy and Advocacy for ICRW and lead author of the brief.

“We see from conflicts all over the globe that women and girls, as well as sexual minorities, face increased rates of violence in their own homes and communities, child marriage and even trafficking, and governments, including the United States, have articulated through their policies an obligation to prevent and respond to all forms of violence. We hope that is a tradition that will continue,” stated Chloe Schwenke, Director of the Violence, Rights and Inclusion portfolio at ICRW.

At the event to launch the policy brief, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration for the U.S. Department of State, Margaret Pollack, highlighted that the United States has responded to the Call to Action in the form of Safe from the Start, an initiative designed to prevent and respond to gender-based violence at the very onset of an emergency. This is a joint initiative with USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance (DCHA). Ms. Pollack reiterated that the United States remains committed to ending gender-based violence, particularly against women and girls, in conflicts around the world. She stated that Safe from the Start has made great strides in changing how the U.S. addresses gender-based violence, and that it is “no longer an afterthought” to include gender-based violence prevention and response in emergencies.

To read the brief and the full list of recommendations for the U.S. government, click here.