It has been firmly established that gender matters in governance, peace and security, development and humanitarian action. Yet, as so often is the case, gender programming in humanitarian assistance is not seen as critical in the same way as other life-saving aid, even though it is known that situations of upheaval exaggerate gendered inequalities and can cause gender relations to shift rapidly.
This paper interweaves two streams of thought: how gender roles change in the course of crises, particularly displacement, and how gender has been integrated (or not) into humanitarian programming. Despite the plethora of policies that have been written and conferences convened over the past four decades, the humanitarian sector has not yet figured out how to integrate gender in a systematic or effective way, nor has it taken on board the evidence regarding how gender roles change in displacement.
The paper – which provides a foundation for HPG’s two-year project ‘How gender roles change in displacement’ – begins by exploring existing knowledge on the impact of displacement on gender roles, norms and power dynamics. It then details the international humanitarian system’s efforts to incorporate gender into its policy and practice, before investigating the deliberate and inadvertent effects of humanitarian action on gender roles among populations in crisis. Finally, it examines the challenges emerging from the existing literature and critically assesses the state of play for the humanitarian sector’s commitment to gender justice.