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Women in El Fasher, Darfur march in campaign against gender-based violence Women in El Fasher, Darfur march in campaign against gender-based violence Photo credit: Albert González Farran - UNAMID

Beyond the Global Initiatives: Managing GBV Programmes in Humanitarian Settings

by Anna Wansbrough-Jones (Stratagem International)
16 October 2015

In recent years there has been renewed global interest in gender-based violence (GBV) in conflict and emergency settings. Anna Wansbrough-Jones travelled to DRC, Lebanon, Myanmar and Pakistan to understand the realities of tackling these issues on the ground.

Recent initiatives – including the Hague-Jolie Summit on Warzone Rape, the Girl Summit and the US Government’s Call to Action on Protecting Women and Girls in Emergencies and Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative – have increased the awareness of issues of sexual violence and GBV amongst global audiences. They have brought to the fore issues that the ‘GBV community’ and others (including those working on the Women, Peace and Security agenda) have been working against for years, highlighting existing technical expertise, international policies, resources and critical dialogue. That said, their real value has been questioned+Some examples include:
Paul Kirby, International Affairs, 91: 3 (2015) 457-472, Ending sexual violence in conflict: the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative and its critics.
Mark Townsend, William Hague’s summit against warzone rape seen as ‘costly failure’.
 and policy discussions on how both ‘gender’ and ‘violence’ are conceived and how to design comprehensive international mandates for action continue.+For example referring to the Hague-Jolie summit on warzone rape, Paul Kirby highlights the need to analyse: ‘whose weapons of war’, e.g. rebel groups, state forces and / or others; how to ensure convictions for rape in a court of law, how to end impunity and how to bring justice for survivors; and how the institutional architecture and actions to prevent and respond to sexual and gender based violence against men and boys can be integrated alongside the existing ‘violence against women and girls’ agenda.
Paul Kirby, International Affairs, 91: 3 (2015) 457-472, Ending sexual violence in conflict: the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative and its critics.
 While these debates are valid, welcome and necessary, it is crucial to look beyond politics and towards practical action: the onus is on practitioners, field experts and humanitarian leaders to harness this global interest and prioritise GBV programming.

Tackling GBV requires, amongst other things, an understanding of the risks, vulnerabilities and coping strategies of different ‘at risk’ groups. The reality of preventing and responding to GBV varies hugely between contexts; a detailed understanding of the operating context is key. Some broad differences between the countries visited include:

  • Practitioners in DRC have been responding to incidents of sexual violence in the mountainous eastern region for an extended period. Government legislation and infrastructure has been set up to facilitate coordination and comprehensive programming.
  • The recent ‘opening’ of Myanmar has required an understanding of the levels and dynamics of sexual violence and other forms of GBV in conflict-affected areas, particularly in camps where many of the country’s internally displaced people (IDPs) are based. Further attention has focussed on building the community and political interest needed to establish programmes.
  • In Pakistan practitioners described the need for balance and context when responding to sexual violence and other forms of GBV in conflict and natural disaster (flooding) settings. They highlighted the complexities of disaster response, understanding the real extent of issues and fostering support for programmes from men, women and other key stakeholders whilst remaining sensitive to local culture.
  • The recent influx of Syrian refugees into parts of Lebanon has meant that practitioners are responding to the needs of Lebanese and Syrian populations who have been affected by sexual violence and other forms of GBV. Understanding the dynamics and tensions between the two communities was described as crucial for programme effectiveness.

Despite these differences practitioners in each country highlighted the importance of improving their programme management to better prevent and respond to sexual violence and other forms of GBV. Some key ways that this is being achieved are listed below.

Get the right people and resources in place:

  • Strengthen understanding and interest. Where further stakeholder understanding and interest is required, for example in Myanmar, experts are developing relationships with national Governments, humanitarian partners, donors and others to build their understanding of why tackling sexual violence and GBV is so crucial. Some noted that it was particularly useful to outline potential negative implications (financial and other) of not responding to these issues.
  • Build a pool of the right people. In Pakistan civil society actors are identifying and training interested youth and local community ‘champions’ as well as staff with experience on issues related to sexual violence and other forms of GBV. Having a wide and local network means that responses can be locally driven and if an emergency hits there are trained people across communities who can help share information and support response activities.
  • Build partnerships – with national government, civil society or others – to prepare and respond in the event of a humanitarian emergency. Local and national agencies have contextual and local experience to guide sensitive programming. For example in DRC agencies work together to preposition medical kits close to areas where there is a high risk of sexual violence. This helps speed up response to incidents, particularly in hard to access and mountainous regions. Similarly some national and international actors put agreements in place in non-emergency times to commit them to working together and outline roles and responsibilities in the event of an emergency.

Understand the situation:

  • Build evidence on sexual violence and other forms of GBV for funding proposals, programme monitoring and evaluation and accountability. Remember that the humanitarian imperative to provide services overrides data collection, be aware of the sensitivities associated with gathering data on GBV and don’t gather data that you don’t need or won’t use by clarifying research objectives from the start.
  • Gather the right type of data. In some parts of Pakistan, qualitative data collection is viewed as more sensitive to the local culture. In Myanmar, in an effort to better understand the vulnerabilities that different people face and how people cope with sexual violence and other forms of GBV, qualitative data collection methods are also deemed more effective.

Don’t forget the basics:

  • Focus on community participation, even in emergencies. The input of those affected is crucial to effectiveness. In Lebanon input from both Lebanese and Syrian groups allows programmes to remain in touch with dynamics and avoid exacerbating tensions between the two groups.
  • Identify the long-term aims and ways to achieve them. This includes considering an exit strategy or sustainability from the outset, despite short-term funding for individual humanitarian projects. In DRC this was particularly relevant as criticisms about responses to sexual violence being short-term and not considering root causes were common.
  • ” Establish systems so that programmes can be accountable. In community centres in Lebanon and IDP camps in Myanmar the value of providing updates on work planned and delivered and giving space for feedback was noted.

Measure, review and learn:

  • Monitor, evaluate (M&E) and review all programmes, even if the process is informal and internal. In DRC practitioners are strengthening systems and processes and arranging resources to be able to systematically integrate M&E in their programme management.
  • Identify and learn from previous successes and challenges. In Pakistan, despite little formal documentation, some civil society agencies described learning how they can best work with men and community heads in order to reach women and girls. They spoke of documenting knowledge and providing feedback as a way of sharing lessons and experiences.

None of the above points are new or pioneering – in early 2014 editions of HPN’s own Network Paper and Humanitarian Exchange Magazine were devoted to GBV practice and explored the components of ‘successful’ programming in extensive detail, and a well-attended public event at ODI highlighted their main points. Practitioners in the countries visited repeated the particular value of the points listed and, more generally, reiterated the need for effective programme management to deliver outcomes on the ground. The core message outlined by HPN and ODI in 2014 persists: global initiatives are important for advancing international policy and agreeing mandates for action, but real change also requires getting the basics right – delivering well managed programmes and learning from ground realities. Practitioners, field experts and humanitarian leaders must continue to capitalise on the current interest in GBV through expanding existing expertise and sharing lessons on how to ensure effective programme management and programme quality in different contexts.

Anna Wansbrough-Jones is a Director at Stratagem International.

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