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Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls

Humanitarian emergencies can have devastating and differential consequences on individuals and communities due to factors such as gender, age, disability, ethnicity, and sexual identity and orientation. Women, persons with disabilities, indigenous persons, persons with diverse gender identity and sexual orientation and identifying as LGBTI [1], older persons, and adolescent girls – often have additional specific and intersecting vulnerabilities and protection concerns that are further compounded by their sex and gender.

In times of crisis, pre-existing gender inequality can be exacerbated, leading to discrimination, exploitation, and impacting an individual’s access to humanitarian, recovery and development assistance, and their access to human rights. Women and girls have historically been disproportionately affected by crises in comparison to their male counterparts, including reduced life expectancies, maternal mortality, and gender-based violence.

Promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls must be central to the humanitarian community’s commitment to protect and provide assistance to people affected by emergencies. Humanitarian planning and assistance must contribute to gender equality by effectively identifying and responding to the needs, priorities and capacities of women, girls, boys and men in all their diversities.

OCHA’s Role in Gender-Equality Programming

Given OCHA’s mandate as a humanitarian coordinating agency, it plays a unique role in ensuring coherent responses to emergencies that are pivoted on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. OCHA integrates gender into all areas of its core mandate: in the planning and implementation of programmes, policies and procedures, and in reporting and results assessments across its core functions of coordination, advocacy, policy, information management, and humanitarian financing.


  • Integrate gender throughout the Humanitarian Programme Cycle. 
  • Promotes the engagement, partnerships with, and leadership of local women’s organizations, specialized agencies, NGOs and other actors working on gender equality.
  • Support humanitarian leadership on integrating gender into every aspect of a humanitarian response. 


  • Ensure that communications and advocacy activities are gender responsive. 
  • Advocate for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, the response, mitigation and prevention of GBV, and women’s participation in humanitarian decision making. 

Information Management

  • Apply a meaningful gender analysis, including the collection and use of sex- and age-disaggregated data. 
  • Develop gender-responsive information products that capture the differential impacts of women and men of all ages and backgrounds.

Humanitarian Financing 

  • Ensure OCHA-managed humanitarian financing continues to be gender responsive. 
  • Systematically include gender-equality programming by applying the IASC Gender with Age Marker (GAM).


  • Support IASC processes. 
  • Ensure strong links between humanitarian policies and other key global policy processes, such as the Sustainable Development Goals, the Beijing Platform for Action, and the Women, Peace and Security agenda.

OCHA Policy Instruction on Gender Equality (2021–2025) 

The updated OCHA Policy Instruction on Gender Equality 2021–2025 reflects developments across the UN system to accelerate achievements on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. It recognizes the need to strengthen the execution of commitments and collective efforts towards more equitable outcomes for all, and in particular women and girls, in humanitarian action.

The Policy frames the need for a specific focus on women and girls to shift power imbalance and tackle structural inequalities that disempower women and girls in humanitarian settings. It sets the priorities, rights, and empowerment of women and girls at the centre of humanitarian action. It also stresses the need for an intersectional approach to gender equality, ensuring analysis of gender intersects with other factors that compound experiences of conflict, displacement, and injustice. The Policy highlights the need to address gender-based violence (GBV) as a critical component of advancing gender equality, inviting a more holistic view of gender equality programming and ensuring synergy with work on accountability, prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA), and gender parity. Priorities are consolidated and focused into three areas where OCHA can leverage its mandate to advance gender equality:

  1. Driving robust gender analysis, committing to better understand the differential crisis impacts for women and men in all their diversities, through the collection and utilization of sex, age, and disability disaggregated data throughout the Humanitarian Program Cycle (HPC), and ensuring that this disaggregated data informs gender analysis, decision-making and response.
  2. Enhancing women’s meaningful participation in humanitarian decision making, promoting the participation of women, women’s rights and women-led organizations and their leadership, voice and representation throughout the HPC, at all levels of humanitarian programming, coordination, financing and decision making.
  3. Prioritizing the response, mitigation and prevention of gender-based violence, advocating for services for GBV as a life-saving priority, as well as promoting the need to address root causes, and lack of funding to women’s rights and women-led organizations, including through pooled funds. 

The Policy reinforces the need for collective responsibility, as well as making staff accountable for the implementation priorities across OCHA. In addition, leadership and accountability, collaborations and partnerships are also key undertakings to achieve the desired outcomes of more effective, equitable and inclusive humanitarian action. Accountability for implementation has also been strengthened through the establishment of a Gender Board, which will have oversight of progress, guiding compliance through annual progress and end of cycle review ensuring alignment to other reporting mechanisms and processes. A Gender Action Plan with concrete benchmarks guides the Policy’s implementation.

Gender-based violence

Gender-based violence (GBV) is an umbrella term for any harmful act perpetrated against a person’s will, and which is based on socially ascribed gender differences between females and males. It includes acts that inflict physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering; threats of such acts; coercion; and other deprivations of liberty. These acts can occur in public or private.

GBV is intrinsically rooted in gender inequality and discriminatory gender roles and norms. Women, men, boys, and girls, who do not conform to socially ascribed gender roles face even further marginalization, and even violence. During humanitarian emergencies, gender dynamics may be affected, and inequalities worsened. While gender-based violence can happen to anyone, it predominantly impacts women and girls. In particular, women of diverse gender identity and sexual orientation, as well as women and girls with disabilities, indigenous, migrant, refugee women, older women, and women and girls in displaced settings, can experience more pronounced risks.

Crises can deepen GBV risks for women and girls, especially when family and community protections have broken down. Domestic violence, rape, trafficking, early and forced marriage, sexual harassment, and sexual exploitation and abuse are some of the types of GBV common in humanitarian emergencies. In particular, women and girls may be attacked as they perform prescribed gender roles, such as fetching water, food and firewood. They may also be targeted by armed actors who use sexual violence as a tactic of war, control and exploitation.

Addressing all forms of GBV is a priority in humanitarian settings, as such acts pose immediate and life-threatening health consequences. It is therefore important that humanitarian actors ensure that their actions and initiatives respond to, mitigate, and prevent GBV from the onset of emergencies. Some forms of GBV, in particular, sexual violence, can affect women and girls, as well as men and boys, and people of diverse sexual identity and orientation.

OCHA continues to strengthen advocacy for prioritization of GBV, funding, and response, mitigation and prevention of GBV in emergencies, in partnership with Call to Action on Protection from GBV, the GBV Area of Responsibility, and women’s organisations.

Key Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) processes

OCHA facilitates system wide support to advance gender equality including by:

Interagency networks on gender

OCHA participates in a number of key interagency networks, including:

  • IASC Gender Reference Group
  • ​​​​UN interagency network on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls (IANGWE)
  • UN Action Network on sexual violence in conflict
  • High Level Taskforce on Financing on GEEWG
  • Friends of Women Peace and Security Network
  • Call to Action on Protection from GBV International Organisations Working Group
  • UN SDG Task Team on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls
  • OCHA also supports gender working groups /gender in humanitarian action (GIHA) in many contexts including the Asia Pacific GIHA, Afghanistan, Central African Republic.

[1] Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex.