U.S. Leadership to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies

The Obama Administration has made the empowerment and protection of women and girls a central part of U.S. foreign policy and national security. The launch of the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, implementation of the U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally, each backed by an Executive Order, and release of the United States Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity are evidence of the Administration’s sustained commitment to these issues.

Throughout the world, we continue to see the risks of gender-based violence (GBV)[1] increase when disasters or conflicts strike. The State Department and USAID have long recognized these threats, and support programming to protect and empower women and girls in humanitarian crises. Since 2000, the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) has provided more than $86 million in targeted assistance to prevent and respond to GBV in humanitarian emergencies, and that figure continues to grow. PRM also supports women and families by prioritizing the provision of sexual and reproductive health services as part of our broader humanitarian response through supporting the work of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and other key partners.

In FY 2013 alone, USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), part of USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance (DCHA), provided nearly $12 million in funding for GBV programs. These resources supported 25 programs designed to prevent and/or respond to GBV in nine countries affected by natural disasters or conflicts, as well as eight global programs to increase capacity for GBV prevention and response and advance program innovations and learning for addressing GBV in emergencies. OFDA also requires all of its programs to design and implement assistance activities in ways that reduce the risks and impact of exploitation and abuse, including GBV. This ensures that protection and gender mainstreaming are addressed in all sector interventions.

What is Safe from the Start and why was it launched?
What is the goal of Safe from the Start?
Which organizations are you partnering with in this initiative?
What opportunities are there to receive funding?
Is Safe from the Start focusing on particular countries or regions?
What is the Call to Action on Protecting Girls and Women in Emergencies?
What is the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI)?
Who can I contact to learn more?
What is the timeline for next steps and opportunities to engage?

What is Safe from the Start and why was it launched? [back]

Despite significant investment, leadership and progress on these issues over the last decade, gaps still exist in preventing and responding to GBV, particularly during the onset of an emergency. Too often, GBV is recognized as a problem late, after major response efforts are underway.

Date: 04/01/2014 Description: Graphic combining the logos of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development. State Dept and USAID ImageRecognizing these challenges, State/PRM, together with USAID/DCHA began developing a framework for action in the spring of 2013 to analyze these challenges, identify solutions, and help mobilize the humanitarian community to take concrete action. As a result of this framework, Secretary Kerry launched Safe from the Start in September 2013. (See more on Safe from the Start.)

Consistent with the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, Safe from the Start will complement and reinforce the Obama administration’s gender equality and protection policies. It will launch new efforts to:

(1) Increase dedicated GBV interventions in emergencies;

(2) Integrate GBV risk mitigation across all humanitarian assistance sectors; and,

(3) Strengthen accountability within the international humanitarian architecture for prioritizing GBV prevention and response.

What is the goal of Safe from the Start? [back]

The goal of Safe from the Start is to reduce the incidence of GBV, while ensuring quality services for survivors from the onset of an emergency through timely and effective humanitarian action. We seek to transform the international system for humanitarian response so that the needs of women and girls and all those affected by GBV are a priority in emergencies— never an afterthought.

Which organizations are you partnering with in this initiative? [back]

Key partners include critical humanitarian organizations with a mandate for protection such as the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the Gender-Based Violence Area of Responsibility (GBV AoR), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and NGOs, as well as other UN agencies.

What opportunities are there to receive funding? [back]

Safe from the Start was launched with an initial commitment of $10 million. The first partners to receive funding were UNHCR and ICRC in 2013. This funding will go toward hiring specialized staff, launching new programs, and developing innovative methods to protect women and girls at the onset of emergencies worldwide.

In 2014, PRM will be issuing calls for proposals for NGO projects for Safe from the Start. For more information on PRM’s NGO funding, please review our updated guidelines and resources for applicants. Subscribing to the Department of State’s email listserv will allow you to receive a notification as soon as new PRM funding opportunity announcements are issued.

Note that as part of our internal commitments to promote stronger programming and integration of gender and GBV considerations, PRM also now requires all NGO partners to complete a gender analysis describing how they will address gender inequalities and risks to women and girls throughout their program design, before receiving PRM funding. This is similar to USAID/OFDA’s protection requirements.

Is Safe from the Start focusing on particular countries or regions? [back]

The scope of Safe from the Start is global, and at this time, we are not developing country-specific strategies. We welcome feedback from partners in the field on improving GBV prevention and response in new and continuing emergencies. As noted above, there will be opportunities to receive dedicated funding through Safe from the Start for programs in emergencies in specific countries, specifically to pilot and/or evaluate interventions and broadly share learning and evidence of best practices.

What is the Call to Action on Protecting Girls and Women in Emergencies? [back]

Note: The U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security provides the overarching policy structure and strategic direction for U.S. involvement in these initiatives.

In 2013, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) launched the Call to Action on Protecting Girls and Women in Emergencies (Call to Action) to mobilize donors, UN agencies, NGOs, and other stakeholders on protecting women and girls in humanitarian emergencies. The Call to Action culminated in a high-level event, co-hosted by the UK and Sweden on November 13, 2013. That event produced a ground-breaking communiqué, in which donors and humanitarian agencies committed to prevent violence against women and girls from the start of humanitarian emergencies.

The Call to Action was developed following the UK’s Humanitarian Emergency Response Review and the G8 Declaration, Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, which was endorsed by Foreign Ministers in April 2013 (see below) and led by the UK Foreign Secretary as part of his Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI). The Call to Action builds on and complements PSVI by mobilizing the humanitarian community not only to address sexual violence in conflict, but also the many forms of violence against women and girls in all types of emergencies. More background on the Call to Action event can be found here.

In January 2014, the United States assumed leadership of the Call to Action. U.S. resources and actions under Safe from the Start represent the U.S. government commitment to the Call to Action. The Call to Action is an important framework to help coordinate efforts with other donors, affected countries, and non-government stakeholders to maximize our impact.

The United States will organize a follow-on Call to Action event in September 2014 in New York during the high-level week of the UN General Assembly. The format is yet to be determined, but it is expected that participants will articulate a joint strategic vision for advancing this agenda and share progress on commitments made in November 2013. It will also offer a platform for new commitments by States and other actors.

We are encouraging States and other organizations that did not sign the communiqué or make commitments at the November event to do so now. If your organization or government would like to sign the communiqué or discuss new commitments, please email SafeFromtheStart@state.gov. A list of current Call to Action commitments, grouped by organization, is included here.

Leading up to the event in September, we will work closely with a wide range of civil society, States and international organization leadership, building on the progress made under UK leadership, to establish a framework for accountability and action. We are supporting a strategic visioning process that will build on the consultative process and technical meetings that led to the November 13th high-level event and the resulting commitments from donors, NGOs, UN, and other international organizations. One key opportunity for reflection on strengthening the commitments will be a technical meeting hosted on the margins of the GBV Area of Responsibility (GBV AoR) June retreat. The GBV AoR is the global level coordinating body co-led by UNICEF and UNFPA that brings together UN agencies, NGOs, governments and others to strengthen GBV response in humanitarian emergencies.

What is the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI)? [back]

In May 2012 UK Foreign Secretary William Hague and the UN Special Envoy for the UN Refugee Agency, Angelina Jolie, launched the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative. Its goal is to end the use of sexual violence in conflict.

Since the launch of PSVI, the UK has worked with many governments, the UN and other multilateral organizations, and a wide range of committed NGOs and civil society organizations to achieve greater global awareness of the scale of sexual violence in conflict and to promote changes in the international community’s perception and response to the issue. This culminated in the “Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict,” which the Foreign Secretary and a group of state-level PSVI “Champions” launched in coordination with the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, at the UN in September 2013. To date, 140 governments have endorsed this Declaration. Foreign Secretary Hague will host an international summit in London from June 10-13, 2014 to discuss next steps. The summit will be the largest ever global meeting on these issues and will focus on turning political commitments into practical action, while challenging governments, civil society, international organizations, and others to identify what more can collectively be done to address these crimes.

The United States will leverage the PSVI summit in June to report on progress on the Call to Action, mobilize new stakeholders around the Call to Action, and engage in expert-level discussions to build consensus around a strategic vision for future collective humanitarian action to tackle all forms of violence against women and girls. We will continue to ensure the Call to Action is aligned and coordinated with existing initiatives, including PSVI.

Who can I contact to learn more? [back]

We welcome your feedback and questions as we seek to establish a transparent and inclusive process to move this agenda forward. The focal point for Safe from the Start and the Call to Action is Liz Drew at the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM). Please email SafefromtheStart@state.gov with any further questions or suggestions.

What is the timeline for next steps and opportunities to engage? [back]

Below is an overview of the current milestones, which will be populated with more details as they develop.

March-May 2014
Stakeholder consultations with IOs, NGOs, States, and others (Washington, New York, Geneva, various)

June 2014
Week of June 2-6 Strategic visioning process for GBV specialists and other humanitarian stakeholders (New York – Margins of the GBV AoR retreat)
June 10-13 Call to Action thematic session/s (London - PSVI Summit)

July 2014
Stakeholder consultations (various)
UNGA planning meeting (Washington)

August 2014
UNGA planning meeting (Washington)

September 2014
UNGA high-level event (New York)

October to December 2014
Progress reviews and 2015 planning


[1] Gender-based violence takes on many forms and can occur throughout the life cycle. Types of gender-based violence can include female infanticide; child sexual abuse; sex trafficking and forced labor; sexual coercion and abuse; neglect; domestic violence; elder abuse; and harmful traditional practices such as early and forced marriage, “honor” killings, and female genital mutilation/cutting. While GBV especially impacts women and girls, it can also affect boys and men, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.