Women in humanitarian action

A woman refugee in Burundi. Photo: UN Women/Catianne Tijerina
Photo: UN Women/Catianne Tijerina

| Snapshot compilations | Photo essays | Videos | More stories | News | From where I stand... |
Publications| Join the conversation |

The issue

Disasters kill more women than men, and hit women’s livelihoods hardest. According to UN reports, 60 per cent of all maternal deaths take place in humanitarian settings and all forms of gender-based violence against women and girls spike during disasters and conflict.

Experience and research show that when women are included in humanitarian action, the entire community benefits. Despite this, women and girls are often excluded from decision-making processes that shape the response strategies that affect their ability and that of their community to recover from crisis. Women must be included in decision-making about the forms of assistance, means of delivery, and the provision of the protection and economic and social empowerment opportunities they need so they can be agents of change.

Closing the gap in humanitarian action

View infographic »

World Humanitarian Summit

At the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in Istanbul from 23-24 May, UN Women is leading preparations for the High-Level Leaders’ Roundtable on Women and Girls: Catalyzing Action to Achieve Gender Equality. It will be one of seven roundtables at which leaders from Member States, the UN and multilateral actors, and civil society will come together to endorse commitments to improve humanitarian action worldwide.

Getting humanitarian action right for women and girls

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. (Photo: Marco Grob.)

In a statement ahead of the World Humanitarian Summit, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka says getting humanitarian action right for women is central to increasing the effectiveness of humanitarian response, bridging the gap with development, and accelerating the path to recovery for the millions affected. Read more»

The five commitments to be endorsed by stakeholders at the Roundtable include:

  • Empowering women and girls as leaders and increasing support for local women’s groups to participate meaningfully in humanitarian action.
  • Ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights for all women and adolescent girls in crisis settings.
  • Implementing a coordinated global approach to prevent and respond to gender-based violence in crisis.
  • Ensuring that humanitarian programming is gender-responsive.
  • Full compliance with humanitarian policies, frameworks and binding documents on gender equality, women’s empowerment and rights.

Ahead of the World Humanitarian Summit, we highlight UN Women’s continuous work to ensure equality between women and men as partners and beneficiaries of humanitarian action, by: making evidence of the differential impacts of disaster or conflict on women both available and understood; providing coordination so that UN and other technical teams have access to knowledge and expertise on gender; supporting capacity-building and agency of national actors, including women’s groups, parliamentarians and others; and providing targeted services, such as safe spaces or psychosocial counselling wherever there are gaps.

A snapshot of our efforts

Kalpana BK with Ashmita Tamang storing dignity kit provided by UNWomen in Panchkhal on July 1, 2015

In the ongoing response to the April and May 2015 earthquakes in Nepal, UN Women has worked side-by-side with government, other UN agencies and women’s groups to highlight the distinct needs of women and girls, and to promote their role as meaningful participants in eventual recovery, reconstruction and development. At the one-year mark, we shine a spotlight on Nepali women and girls, their stories and their solutions. More »

During the ongoing conflict in Syria, UN Women has been actively supporting cash-for-work and other women’s economic empowerment programmes in refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon as well as assessing the needs of asylum-seekers arriving in Serbia and FYR Macedonia. We’re advocating for the protection of women and girls against gender-based violence, and promoting their role as meaningful participants in peace talks, conflict-resolution and peacebuilding. More »
This accommodation centre normally provides rural women market vendors with a safe and dry place to sleep for the three days they sell at the market. Now it is unusable. Photo: UN Women/Anna Parini.

Cyclone Winston ravaged Fiji in February 2016. In its wake, UN Women has been supporting Government and UN efforts to ensure protection for the most vulnerable, including against gender-based violence. We’re also providing funds and technical support to local women and organizations as they help women access essential information, relief and protection services, and to rebuild the marketplaces that provided women with an income and food supply. More »
Ebola in West Africa
woman in Sierra Leone holding Ebola info card

In countries affected by the Ebola virus, UN Women supported sensitization and advocacy to help curb its spread and mitigate its impacts. Gender in humanitarian action experts were deployed. UN Women worked with the UN Country Team in Sierra Leone to launch an Ebola Gender Mainstreaming Strategy at the height of the crisis in October 2014. And we supported a new maternal and reproductive health services unit at a government hospital.
More »

Photo essays

Stories of hope from a Cameroon refugee camp

Hawa, 23, was eight months pregnant when her husband was killed in the fighting in CAR. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown
Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

Fleeing from the devastating conflict in the Central African Republic, today they are rebuilding their lives, one day at a time, in a camp in Cameroon. where UN Women provides economic and social rehabilitation to some 6,250 vulnerable women and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. Here are some of their stories »
See larger Flickr set »

In Vanuatu, women tackle drought to restore livelihoods after Cyclone Pam

Photo: UN Women/Murray Lloyd

In the months following Cyclone Pam, a prolonged El Niño-fueled drought prevented replanting, causing months of crop failure, food insecurity and the decimation of the livelihoods of market vendors, majority women, in Vanuatu. Here are portraits and testimonies of the women who are part of the Silae Vanua Market Vendor Association »

In DRC, women refugees rebuild lives, with determination and hope

With UN Women’s assistance, in 2015, 264 women refugees contributed to the camp’s food security after being trained to grow vegetables.  Photo: UN Women/Catianne Tijerina
Photo: UN Women/Catianne Tijerina

Burundi’s ongoing political turmoil has caused hundreds of thousands to flee their homes and seek shelter at the Lusenda refugee camp, which is home to more than 16,000 refugees, in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. Here’s a glimpse into daily life at the camp, where UN Women runs several Safe Haven multipurpose centres »


Mali: Women flee the war to find new life

The 2012 invasion of northern Mali by rebel and Islamist groups displaced over 500,000 people, the majority women and children. Watch the story of two displaced women who give new direction to their lives with the help of UN Women grants. Khadija brews and sells hibiscus tea in Mopti market, while Aguechatou is a tailor who makes colourful women’s clothes.

New beginnings: Syrian women refugees in the Arab Region

For over two years, the government of Japan has supported a UN Women regional programme in the Arab States and North Africa for the economic empowerment of refugees and women breadwinners in refugee and host communities. The programme has so far supported 10 community centres in three refugee camps and in non-camp settings in Egypt and Lebanon. In Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon 29,500 families benefited from UN Women's "Economic Empowerment of Syrian Refugees" programme.

#ShareHumanity: Women in humanitarian crises

Sixty million people are currently displaced by conflict or persecution, half of them are women and children. War and natural disasters half a disproportionate impact on women. women. UN Women’s “Safe Spaces” provide vital support for women in humanitarian crises advocate for gender specific response in humanitarian crises.

More stories

UN Women Representative in Ecuador, Moni Pizani (first on the right) visits a shelter in Pedernales. Photo: UN Women Ecuador

In post-earthquake Ecuador, workshops and shelter visits seek to prevent violence against women
UN Women coordinated safe resettlement and recovery activities for women, and visited temporary shelters to provide technical assistance and recommendations to improve the safety of women and girls housed there.

Head of Office for UN Women in Yemen Dina Zorba. Photo: UN Women

Dodging bombs and building trust in Yemen
As part of our editorial series titled "A day in the life of...", Dina Zorba, head of office for UN Women in Yemen, provides a glimpse into her work in Yemen, a country which has seen much conflict since March of 2015.

Somali women refugees raking

Braving dust storms, women plant seeds of hope at the Dadaab refugee camp
Turning dry lands into fertile fields, a livelihood project is helping Somali women refugees in Kenya make a living and prevent sexual and gender-based violence.

CPR training

Lives saved in Viet Nam by involving women in disaster planning
Through the training of women in disaster management, as well as national lobbying, the contribution of women has been recognized and a government decree now gives the Women’s Union an official space in decision-making bodies.

Refugees getting ready for the train in Gevgelija to travel to the border with Serbia, photo credit: Mirjana Nedeva

UN Women assesses the needs of women migrants in Serbia and fYR Macedonia
A UN Women assessment found that response-planning, services, protection capacity and information are not yet sufficient to meet the needs of migrant women and girls in Serbia and fYR Macedonia.

UN Women Brazil’s National Ambassador Camila Pitanga featured in the information campaign led by the Ministry of Health.

Actions intensify in response to the Zika virus in Brazil
UN Women and partners are distributing digital cards, flyers and posters to raise awareness of women's health and rights, as radio programmes and a virtual situation room channel information and advocacy.


UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson and UN Women Deputy Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the UN Women-chaired roundtable. Photo: World Humanitarian Summit

At WHS, participants vow to put women and girls at centre of decision-making
The first-ever World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) drew to a close on 24 May, after two days of historic discussions among global leaders from 173 countries, focused on how to respond more effectively and inclusively to major humanitarian crises and be better prepared to meet future challenges.

Yannick Glemarec, UN Women WHS side event. Photo: Sharon Grobeisen

At WHS side event, participants call on global leaders to prioritize local women’s groups in humanitarian response
On 23 May, the first day of the World Humanitarian Summit , UN Women Deputy Executive Director Yannick Glemarec co-hosted a side event on how to realize the commitments being made to gender equality and women’s empowerment.

UN Women exhibition booth at the World Humanitarian Summit

Press release: At World Humanitarian Summit, UN Women calls for women’s rights and empowerment to be central principles of humanitarian action
UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and Deputy Executive Director Yannick Glemarec will join other world leaders at the first World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in Istanbul, Turkey.

Rawan El Takriri. Photo: UN Women/Emad Karim

Syrian women rise above differences and forge a statement of unity
In an effort to build consensus to end the Syrian crisis, a group of over 130 Syrian women political and civil society activists met in Lebanon from 20-22 May and overcame significant political divides to forge a statement of unity.

Samah Bassas. Photo: UN Women/John Bleho

Civil society advocates forge recommendations ahead of World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul
UN Women and Oxfam brought together more than 50 refugee advocates from 15 countries in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa to formulate a joint position on how to respond to the challenges faced by refugee women and girls.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson meets with beneficiaries of the Chautara multipurpose women's centre in Nepal.

UN Deputy Secretary-General visits UN Women multipurpose centre in Nepal
UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson received a warm welcome from women earthquake survivors at the UN Women-supported multipurpose women’s centre in Sindhupalchowk district, central Nepal on 1 May.

From left to right, Mohammad Naciri, UN Women’s Regional Director for Arab States, Jim Yong Kim, Director of the World Bank, Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, and Mr. Ban’s wife, Ms. Yoo (Ban) Soon-taek, during a visit to one of UN Women’s “Oases” in Za’atari refugee camp. Photo: UN Women/Christopher Herwig

UN Secretary-General and World Bank Director visit UN Women centre in Za’atari refugee camp
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim visited Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp on 27 March, accompanied by a delegation of senior UN officials. The delegation first stopped by one of the women centres run by UN Women, known as the “Oases”, underlining the United Nations’ commitment to respond to the needs and aspirations of women and girls in humanitarian assistance.

Participants at the 'Enhancing the Network's Humanitarian Advocacy at Regional and Global Events' workshop in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: UN Women/Rose Ogala

Strengthening the capacity of networks of women with disabilities on humanitarian action
Women leaders with disabilities from the Network of African Women with Disabilities representing 10 African countries, and refugee women with disabilities met in Nairobi, Kenya from 11-12 February to participate in the workshop "Enhancing the Network's Humanitarian Advocacy at Regional and Global Events".

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka addresses the CSW60 World Humanitarian Summit side event. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

Gender equality must be at the core of humanitarian action says international community
At CSW60, government representatives, civil society groups and high-level UN officials highlighted the centrality of gender equality in humanitarian action and urged world leaders to make concrete commitments at the World Humanitarian Summit in May.

UN Women Deputy Country Representative for South Sudan, The Ambassador of Japan to South Sudan, H.E. Kiya Masahiko and the UN Women Director of Programmes, Ms Maria Noel Vaeza cutting a ribbon as they hand over the resilience building equipment. Photo Credits: UN Women/Rose Ogola

Building resilience for South Sudanese women through humanitarian assistance
Following a successful pilot in 2014, UN Women in South Sudan has scaled up the provision of humanitarian assistance to reach 6,000 vulnerable women and girls and 1,500 men and boys in displaced settlements in Nimule, Eastern Equatorial State, Mingkaman in Lakes State and Juba in Central Equatoria State.

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka took part in a talk-show-style discussion with Dutch Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Lilianne Ploumen

On mission in the Netherlands, UN Women Executive Director calls for action to protect women and girls fleeing from conflict
On her first official visit to the Netherlands from 23–26 January 2016, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka took part in a talk-show-style discussion with Dutch Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Lilianne Ploumen.

From where I stand...

This editorial series captures the unique and powerful stories of people around the world, through compelling first-person accounts of their daily sustainable development challenges and how they are bringing about change. Read more»


The effect of gender equality programming on humanitarian outcomes
Based on evidence gathered directly from crisis-affected populations, this study provides practical recommendations on the best means to integrate gender equality programming into future humanitarian interventions in ways that strengthen effectiveness and inclusiveness.

One humanity: shared responsibility Report of the Secretary-General for the World Humanitarian Summit

One humanity: shared responsibility Report of the Secretary-General for the World Humanitarian Summit
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon writes that the first World Humanitarian Summit is a time for Heads of State and Government, representatives of affected communities, aid organizations and others to discuss what can be done better to end conflict, alleviate suffering and reduce risk and vulnerability.

Promoting the Rights, Needs and Agency of Women and Girls in Humanitarian Action

Promoting the Rights, Needs and Agency of Women and Girls in Humanitarian Action
UN Women is committed to ensuring equality among all women, men, girls and boys affected by disasters, both as beneficiaries of humanitarian action and as contributors to its planning and implementation. This brochure provides an overview and examples of how UN Women promotes gender equality and women’s empowerment in all its humanitarian work.

Evaluation on the contribution of UN Women to ending violence against women and expand access to services

Evaluation: The contribution of UN Women to increasing women’s leadership and participation in peace and security and humanitarian response
The UN Women Independent Evaluation Office undertook this thematic evaluation of UN Women’s contribution to humanitarian response from 2012 to 2013. Its objective: to capture key results and lessons learned to inform future programmatic planning.

Join the conversation

The World Humanitarian Summit is the chance for your government to take a stand for the hundreds of millions of people suffering in the world—and to protect and empower women in humanitarian crises.

  • Ask your leader to commit to action!
  • Raise awareness about the specific needs of women and girls in humanitarian crises and help us spread the word about opportunities for women’s empowerment during crisis response! A social media package with sample messages in English, Spanish and French is available here.
  • Find more social media content around #ShareHumanity and #Planet5050 on our accounts: @UN_Women(English), @ONUMujeres (Spanish), and @ONUFemmes (French) on Twitter; UN Women on InstagramUN Women (English), ONU Mujeres (Spanish), and ONU Femmes (French) on Facebook.
  • Share your first tweet now!

Follow us

@un_women, @onumujeres, @onufemmes, @phumzileunwomen, @sayno_unite on Twitter

UN Women, ONU Mujeres, ONU Femmes, Say NO - UNiTE on Facebook

UN Women on Google+

UN Women on Instagram

UN Women on LinkedIn

UN Women on Pinterest