European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations

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International Women's Day: Women in Emergency situations

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) meeting protection needs of vulnerable IDPs remains one of the biggest challenges during periods of conflict. Women constitute a higher proportion of IDPs and those who are displaced without men tend to be more vulnerable, because of their weaker economic circumstances and lack of family protection.

This is why crisis situations whether they result from human-made or natural disasters are not gender neutral. The same event can impact in different ways on women, girls, boys and men. This is because different gender groups have different vulnerabilities and needs, face different risks, and develop coping mechanisms in different ways to resist to shock, survive and support their families.

In response, ECHO focuses humanitarian assistance to women on better health care, safer environments, tackling diseases and responding to violence. During a crisis, many health services often become unavailable. This includes prenatal care and assisted childbirth for example. At the same time, women are at greater risk of suffering from sexual violence and related sexually-transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies. Displaced populations are extremely vulnerable. About 80% of refugees and internally displaced people in crisis situations are women and children.  

ECHO also works with its partners to reduce maternal and child mortality through humanitarian aid providing many women and children in conflict-affected areas with access to health services, including safe motherhood programs covering antenatal, postnatal and children’s health.

During and after disasters, in collaboration with its partners ECHO humanitarian aid also helps to protect women and children from exploitation and violence, provides food and shelter, sets up temporary classrooms and reduces the spread of disease through improved hygiene, safe water and immunisation. Access to food and ensuring adequate nutrition are principal concerns—especially for the most vulnerable:  pregnant women, mothers and children.

ECHO works in partnership around the world, because working together is more effective.

Integrating gender issues also means making humanitarian aid more effective, by adapting the assistance to the specific needs of women, girls, boys and men. Gender concerns can be successfully mainstreamed in all sectors of humanitarian aid interventions: for example in Sri Lanka ECHO supported gender sensitive demining actions (careful analysis of gender based roles influenced the choice of areas to be cleared to ensure safe access to safe sites to both women and men), in rural Bangladesh, a disaster preparedness project with Oxfam managed to break gender stereotypes according to which women should be confined at home and engaged women of the community in earthwork measurement and awareness campaigns as a mean to build community resilience to floods while challenging gender norms. In North Kivu (DRC), ECHO supported a food security project that introduced innovative use of fuel efficient stoves for IDP families. By limiting firewood consumption, women spent less time collecting firewood: their workload was thus reduced and their security improved as they spent less time in the woods where they were often targeted for attacks.

Women and girls are powerful agents of change. Their contribution to protecting and rebuilding their community should not be disregarded. To be resilient, a community cannot overlook the skills of half of its population: gender inequality means increased vulnerability and less capacity to cope with hazards.. To read more, check out our stories and pictures!