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Gender, power and principles in humanitarian action

Research reports

Written by Megan Daigle

It has been firmly established that gender matters to inclusive and effective humanitarian action. Crises of all kinds, including displacement, are traumatic, difficult, tumultuous – and unavoidably shaped by gender. Understanding changing gendered norms and roles is therefore central to more inclusive and effective responses to displacement.

Yet gender responsiveness in practice has remained patchy at best, even though it is known that displacement from home – and from stability and familiarity – tends to exaggerate gendered inequalities and can cause gender relations to shift rapidly. There is little emphasis on understanding the norms that underpin gendered impacts in a given context as foundational to intervening sensitively, supportively and without causing further harm.

While #AidToo spotlighted international humanitarian actors’ ways of working, there has been little meaningful change in leadership or practices in the humanitarian sector, and major actors and mechanisms like the Grand Bargain remain gender-blind. As a result, gender-focused programming in humanitarian assistance is just not seen as critical in the same way as other life-saving aid and is often the first to suffer in the face of limited resources or time constraints. Likewise, gender analysis is rarely applied to those programmes acknowledged as life-saving, such as food or shelter.

This report offers a ‘state of play’ assessment of progress on gender responsiveness to date, and makes recommendations for funding, designing and delivering better for people of all genders.