Issue 60 - Article 12

Linking food security, food assistance and protection from gender-based violence: WFP's experience

February 12, 2014
Gina Pattugalan
WFP’s SAFE programme enables women in Darfur to make their own fuel-efficient cook stoves

The link between sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and food insecurity is well documented. See, for instance, G. Pattugalan and N. Crawford, Protection in Practice: Food Assistance with Safety and Dignity (Rome: WFP, 2013); and M. Berg, H. Mattinen and G. Pattugalan, Examining Protection and Gender in Cash and Voucher Transfers (Rome: WFP, 2013).  Tensions within households, including domestic violence, can rise during periods of food scarcity, and tends to decline as assistance fills the food gap. Food assistance can also reduce the incidence of survival sex or sex for food. While food assistance programmes can support initiatives that contribute to preventing and mitigating SGBV, they can also undermine the protection of women and girls if they are implemented without sufficient understanding of the operational context. Beyond usual relief operations, food assistance is also directly used to support SGBV survivors and to complement other services, such as medical care and psychosocial support.

WFP: working to support gender change

Depending on the type and length of its programmes, the World Food Programme (WFP) contributes to women’s access to livelihoods and income, and can support wider gender changes in the household and the community. For example, women in Bangladesh have benefited from comprehensive training on business planning, income generation, financial literacy and disaster preparedness, as well as gender sensitisation, under the two-year WFP project on Food Security for the Ultra-Poor. Women participants say that the project has yielded positive changes for them, including the accrual of income and expansion of livelihood sources, better mobility, networking and support groups, reduced domestic violence and enhanced participation in community life, including new roles for these women in terms of the prevention of early marriage within their communities. Women participants also claim that they feel they are being valued and listened to by their spouses and other members of the community, resulting from their capacity to contribute financially to meeting household needs.

WFP’s inclusion of a gender strategy as a central element of the Purchase for Progress (P4P) initiative See  addressed food security-related triggers leading to SGBV. Launched in 2009, and currently piloted in 20 countries, P4P provides smallholder farmers, who could otherwise not compete with larger traders, the opportunity to become suppliers of cereals and pulses to WFP through their farmers’ organisations. P4P has tried to include women, not only as labour providers, but also as full participants in farm activities, including earning and investing income generated along the agricultural value chain. Women, categorised as farmers, unpaid family workers or wage labourers, are given access to agricultural inputs, skills training, credit and markets. However, these women need much more support. Of the 851 farmers’ organisations under P4P programmes in the pilot countries, women constitute only 29% of the total membership and occupy just 34% of the leadership positions. B. Somé and L. Hildyard, ‘Female Smallholder Farmers Empowerment: Understanding Gender Subtleties and Preserving Household Harmony’, Learnings from WFP, January 2013.  A more consistent application of the P4P gender strategy, including adequate analysis of gender relations and the possible negative consequences of women’s expanded participation in agricultural activities (e.g. increased workload, less time for childcare) and income-earning potential (causing resentment from their husbands), could help prevent gender-based violence as a consequence of these programmes.

Also in 2009, WFP launched the Safe Access to Firewood and alternative Energy (SAFE) programme. While the project approach is multi-sectoral, SAFE has been predominantly driven by WFP’s desire to help address protection threats, faced mostly by female beneficiaries, when collecting firewood and other types of cooking fuel. The programme has demonstrated encouraging results in terms of reducing women’s risk of exposure to SGBV. The programme in North Darfur, comprising 33 centres where women make fuelefficient stoves and fuel briquettes, has resulted in women having to venture out less frequently to collect firewood and charcoal. This, in turn, has decreased exposure to rape and other types of sexual assault. The SAFE centres have also created ‘safe’ social spaces for women, as well as venues for training on income generation, literacy, nutrition and hygiene and community reforestation.

A 2013 study by WFP and the US State Department Bureau of Population and Refugee Movement (BPRM) found positive links between fuel-efficient stoves, GBV sensitisation and reduced exposure to the risk of GBV during firewood collection in Kakuma, Kenya, where WFP has provided fuel-efficient stoves to refugees and host communities. The provision of fuel-efficient stoves has reduced fuel consumption, thereby reducing the frequency of trips to collect firewood and reducing women’s exposure to the threat of SGBV. Recipients, who also received sensitisation on SGBV mitigation measures, have indicated increased knowledge about support for victims of violence and available reporting options. Focus group discussions with these beneficiaries revealed better community-based protection strategies during firewood collection (for example an increase in the number of women travelling in groups to collect firewood and more involvement of men in firewood collection). However, the study also highlighted that firewood collection cannot be totally eliminated, as it is also a significant source of income. WFP, ‘WFP SAFE Project in Kenya, Kakuma: Fuel-Efficient Stoves and Gender-Based Violence’, June 2013.

WFP’s flagship school-feeding programme has helped increase the enrolment and retention of girls in school. Education is one of the most important factors in stopping violence against women. WFP case studies in Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) indicate that providing take-home rations for girls in their last two years of primary school contributed to a decrease in the frequency of early marriage. Each girl must attend school 80% of the time to receive these rations, which are shared with the family. It is in the family’s interest, therefore, to allow their daughter to attend school rather than marry.  In Kenya, food assistance to boarding schools in the arid and semi-arid northern region has helped girls remain in school. WFP has also provided support to government boarding schools which accommodate girls who have run away from early or forced marriages.

Despite these positive developments, unintended consequences remain in food assistance delivery in general. Women are at risk of violence on the way to and from food distribution points; domestic violence against women may increase as spouses fight over control of assistance, or men react negatively to the role of women as the family’s ration holder; raids on communities after food distributions expose women and girls to greater risk of rape and sexual assault, and women may suffer reprisal attacks for their participation in income-generating activities or for their new-found mobility and voice in local communities; aid workers may sexually exploit women in exchange for access to relief assistance. There have also been cases where women’s participation in food assistance activities, for example cash or food for work or training, has further increased their workload, and the activities involved may not suit their physical capacity. Many of these unintended negative effects often arise because of lapses in analysis of the context, gender relations and the protection issues facing women and men. There may also be shortcomings in vetting partners and their staff, insufficient attention to safe distribution modalities (especially during quickonset emergencies) and inadequate communication with and feedback from beneficiary and non-beneficiary communities.

Elements of a strategy to prevent and respond to SGBV

Based on WFP’s experience, this article proposes a set of possible elements of an SBGV prevention and response strategy for organisations providing food assistance in challenging contexts.

1. Developing the necessary policy framework for action

WFP has developed policy frameworks demonstrating organisational commitment to SGBV prevention and response. The 2009 Gender Policy has placed the protection of women and girls from SGBV as a top programmatic priority for the agency, and the 2012 Humanitarian Protection Policy affirms WFP’s responsibility to help protect its beneficiaries from harm and seek ways to contribute to their safety and dignity. Such policy frameworks have been critical in providing the foundation for staff to translate rhetoric into action in the field.

2. Investing in consistent and dynamic context and gender analysis in all field programmes

Field research has shown that, in country offices where WFP has invested in analysis as part and parcel of programming, such as in Bangladesh, Malawi and Kenya, SGBV prevention programmes have achieved better results This suggests that support for SGBV prevention needs to be based on in-depth analysis of the programme context, gender relations and the specific threats to and vulnerabilities of women and men; mapping of actors dealing with SGBV issues; and an understanding of the possible negative impacts of various assistance delivery methods (food aid, cash, vouchers). This analysis should be regularly reviewed and revised, and should feed into programme reviews and adjustments. This dynamic analytical approach should be built into rolling food security analysis as well as the monitoring and reporting tools of the organisation.

3. Linking analysis with design and implementation: making SGBV prevention an explicit programme objective

WFP’s experience shows that food assistance programmes, whether relief, P4P, asset creation, resilience-building or school feeding, can complement other interventions and strategically support SGBV prevention and response efforts. This will be most successful when programme objectives are explicitly linked to addressing SGBV or its consequences through targeted assistance, and making distributions safer for women and girls. Engaging men in programmes that have an SGBV prevention component is vital.

4. Mitigating risks associated with food utilisation

The SAFE programme is a good example of how WFP is addressing SGBV threats associated with food utilisation. Some WFP country-level SAFE programmes, such as in North Darfur, are demonstrating success, especially if linked with livelihoods and income-generating activities. Organisations engaged in food and livelihood assistance programmes should build on this, and on the growing interest among international agencies and the private sector in innovative fuel-efficient technology.

5. Listening and reaching out to affected communities

The field studies have highlighted the need for WFP to improve accountability to beneficiaries. Over the last two years, several WFP field offices have established beneficiary feedback and complaints mechanisms (including relating to SGBV), corruption and other issues that may arise from the delivery of food assistance. By consulting women, girls, men and boys separately in the design of programmes, engaging them in implementation and informing them of their food entitlements, it is hoped that such steps will foster transparency, build trust with communities and facilitate better reporting of SGBV cases.

6. Supporting and sustaining knowledge-building, awareness-raising and attitudinal change

To date, more than 3,000 WFP and implementing partner staff have received training on protection, including SGBV prevention. This has changed views within WFP about the importance of protection and human rights. This demonstrates the importance of investing in training and raising the awareness of staff and holding them accountable for contributing to SGBV prevention.

7. Reporting, measuring results and instilling accountability among staff and managers

WFP’s experience also demonstrates the need to continue to monitor whether its programme outputs, outcomes and processes are exacerbating SGBV or contributing to SGBV prevention and response. Having organisational results frameworks and country-level reporting tools with measurable indicators and impact assessments which help staff to understand the effect of food assistance on SGBV at the local level can help in this regard.

Gina Pattugalan is a Policy Officer with WFP.


Comments are available for logged in members only.