Getting out of our silos: Leveraging the Women, Peace & Security agenda to transform humanitarian action

in Commentary , Tagged WPS, Humanitarian action, Australian WPS Coalition.
  • Pip Henty

    Pip Henty

    Researcher, Humanitarian Advisory Group. Pip specialises in gender and inclusion in humanitarian practice and provides research, technical and policy advice across Humanitarian Advisory Group’s portfolio of work. She is currently the co-lead on Humanitarian Advisory Group’s teaching partnership with La Trobe University, and facilitates the Master of International Development Human Security subject.

  • Beth Eggleston Humanitarian RAW 090 1

    Beth Eggleston

    Director and Co-founder of Humanitarian Advisory Group. For more than eighteen years, Beth has worked in the humanitarian sector specialising in civil-military coordination and humanitarian reform. Beth has long-term field experience in Afghanistan, Liberia, Tonga, Costa Rica, Laos PDR, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam. In 2014 Beth was awarded the Humanitarian Overseas Service Medal by the Australian government.


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Gender equality is at the forefront of transforming the ways in which we approach peacebuilding. From a feminist analysis of Australia’s emerging security architecture to humanitarian responses in disaster zones, the need for a gendered approach has never been clearer. 

Protracted conflicts and natural disasters disproportionately affect women and girls across the world. The Women, Peace and Security agenda calls for strengthening of relief and recovery measures to ensure that we recognise the capacity of women and girls to participate in humanitarian response. Here, Pip Henty and Beth Eggleston take a look at what is required in order for us to put women at the centre of humanitarian efforts.




The fact that women and girls experience conflict differently from boys and men is made clear in the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda – but what about during a humanitarian response? How does the relief and recovery, and the protection pillars of the agenda support humanitarian action, and vice versa?

Protracted conflicts and natural disasters have significant impacts on entire communities and disproportionately on women and girls. 75% of people in need of humanitarian assistance are women and children. Sexual and gender-based violence dramatically increases in a conflict context, with sexual violence against women increasingly employed as a systematic weapon of war. The increased risk women and girls face is often a result of the breakdown of traditional structures that protect and support women, such as formal institutional structures, as well as the family unit.

The vision of many champions of the WPS agenda is a world in which gender equality, and the contributions and rights of diverse women and girls, are at the forefront of transforming approaches to peacebuilding.

The vision of many champions of the WPS agenda is a world in which gender equality, and the contributions and rights of diverse women and girls, are at the forefront of transforming approaches to peacebuilding. Although all pillars of the WPS agenda are crucial to the full implementation of the agenda, the relief and recovery, and participation pillars are imperative in moving past the common discourse of the protection of women towards harnessing women as leaders in humanitarian response.


Relief and Recovery in humanitarian action

The WPS agenda calls for a strengthening of relief and recovery measures to address international crises through a gendered approach. This pillar aims to ensure a gender perspective is incorporated into all relief and recovery efforts to support the needs, and recognise and strengthen, the capacity of women and girls to engage in peacebuilding. Additionally, women and girls must be given the opportunity to participate in relief and recovery measures at all levels in humanitarian response.

One way of strengthening implementation of the WPS agenda is by exploring the alignment of other high-level global frameworks, and leveraging that alignment. For example, the World Humanitarian Summit’s core responsibilities include preventing and ending conflicts and leaving no one behind. This is directly related to developing solutions with and for people, including empowering women and girls. The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Guidelines for Integrating Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Interventions in Humanitarian Action assist humanitarian actors and communities to coordinate, plan, implement, monitor and evaluate essential actions for the prevention and mitigation of GBV across all aspects of humanitarian response. Also, investing in the linkages between humanitarian action and the Sustainable Development Goals can support WPS priorities. Leveraging these frameworks enhances relief and recovery initiatives to appropriately respond to the needs of women and girls and can contribute to further implementation of the WPS agenda.


Women in leadership – a place at the peace table

The participation pillar refers to the full and equal participation and representation of women at all levels of decision making, including peace-processes, electoral processes (both candidates and voters), UN positions, and the broader social-political sphere.

Research conducted by Humanitarian Advisory Group found that the gendered leadership gap within humanitarian organisations directly impacts humanitarian outcomes. Having more women in decision-making and leadership positions will likely lead to improved gender considerations in programming and greater achievement of gender equity goals. It is imperative that women in leadership and decision-making roles are not just given tokenistic leadership positions that are then undermined due to social, cultural norms, and systemic discrimination.

It is imperative that women in leadership and decision-making roles are not just given tokenistic leadership positions

To better ensure this happens, in 2000, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, specifically demanded greater representation and participation of women and gender issues at all levels. For example, there are various challenges that need to be overcome in Afghanistan for women to participate and engage in peace negotiations. Women are constrained, often by gendered social norms, with regard to areas they can travel and interaction. This gender restriction is also evident in the representation of women in the High Peace Council in Afghanistan, which consists of only nine women out of a total of seventy members. When women are represented and their voices are heard, it promotes a more inclusive, satisfactory and sustainable peace and security. Peace strategies and humanitarian response are otherwise not comprehensive when women are not represented, including the role they can play and the impact these strategies can have on women.


The risk of securitising the WPS agenda and impeding humanitarian action

The rise of countering/preventing violent extremism (CVE) efforts in many contexts where the humanitarian needs are significant – Myanmar, Syria and Yemen for example – results in a significant risk that both the WPS agenda and humanitarian action will be turned into security instruments. As a result, the CVE agenda may become the dominant priority at the expense of other security and humanitarian issues facing women. The current environment of militarisation, understood as the reliance on the use of force as the sole means of conflict resolution within many national security, political and social spheres, often results in the neglect of a gendered lens of experiences and voices.

The success of this trust is often based on the notion that humanitarians abide by the concept of neutrality

Women’s rights and women’s rights organisations would be adversely impacted in many contexts where CVE attempts via military strategies and agendas seep into humanitarian work. A recent study found that measures to CVE have had both a direct and indirect impact on women’s rights organisations to seek, secure and access resources, including funding. Additionally, this impacts on humanitarian organisations. For example, trust is built between humanitarian organisations, the affected population, and the group controlling the area where the humanitarian needs exist. The success of this trust is often based on the notion that humanitarians abide by the concept of neutrality, and are not acting on behalf of any political or military group. This is particularly true for the most vulnerable in a disaster, including women and children. The perception that women and children are at risk of radicalisation should not impact upon the priorities of humanitarian aid delivery in particular area.

If we want women to be at the centre of humanitarian efforts as well as peace building efforts, there needs to be a shift in thinking, including listening, talking, and engaging the women who are affected – and we must utilise all the tools, and their synergies, in order to make that happen.


This article was first published on the Australian Civil Society Coalition on Women, Peace and Security website, and is reposted here with permission. Read the original here.

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